Tom Wilson has shown he has the skill to be a top-six NHL forward over the course of his career. Before the NHL season was paused due to the coronavirus, Wilson had already reached the 20-goal mark for the second consecutive season and had set a new career-high of 44 points. But regardless of how many goals he scores or how much he produces, Wilson is always going to be known for his physical style of play.
And that's just fine with him.
Wilson joined the University of Maryland head football coach Mike Locksley on Tuesday in Locksley's Instagram show "Late Night with Locks." Since Locksley is a football coach, not surprisingly one thing he wanted to talk about was Wilson's physical play.
"I'm definitely never going to lose that part of my game," Wilson said. "It's something that's natural to me and something that I love. "
Wilson made his NHL debut in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. An 18-year-old still honing his skills, it was clear head coach Adam Oates had not inserted Wilson into the lineup for his offense. Instead, Wilson provided a big body and big hits.
Even at a young age, that was a vital part of Wilson's skill set.
"Throughout my career as a kid growing up, I always just loved the hard aspect of the game," Wilson said. "I just wanted to go out there and play tough and be tough to play against. I took a lot of pride in that part of my game. That's part of the reason that I got to where I am now."
The league, however, does not love it as much as Wilson does. He has been suspended four times over the course of his career including a 20-game suspension in 2018 for a hit he delivered to St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in a preseason game. The suspension was reduced to 14 games on appeal, but the message was clear. Wilson needed to change his game.
"You come into the league and everybody builds their own reputation," Wilson said.
He added, "You get a couple suspensions and stuff like that, it was a tough year, it seemed like it was spiraling out of control a little, but that happens. You learn from it and you adapt."
Adapting for Wilson, however, did not mean cutting out the hits or the fights entirely and he still has no intention of doing so because ultimately that's what makes him so valuable.
Being able to score 20 goals in the NHL is valuable, but there are lots of players who can do that. Being able to score 20 goals while providing the type of physical presence that Wilson does makes him very unique in this era of hockey. Since returning from his suspension in 2018, Wilson has avoided trouble with the Department of Player Safety. Managing to remain a physical threat while staying out of trouble and also providing the type of offense that justifies a spot in the top-six takes constant work, but it is a task Wilson is up for.
"That's all you can really do is just try and keep getting better, develop the skill side and keep complimenting the good players that I'm fortunate to be on the ice with," he said. "The rest of it will fall into place."
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