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End of season review: Tom Wilson

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End of season review: Tom Wilson

Throughout the past few weeks, CSNWashington.com Capitals Insider Chuck Gormley has been evaluating the 2014-15 performance of each player on the Caps roster. One breakdown has occurred every day in alphabetical order. The series ends today with: Tom Wilson

Position: Right Wing

Shoots: Right

Age: 21 [turns 22 March 29]

Ht/Wt: 6-4, 210

Games: 67

Goals: 4

Assists: 13

Points: 17

Penalty minutes: 172

Plus-Minus: Minus-1

Average Ice Time: 19:56

Playoff games: 13

Goals: 0

Assists: 1

Points: 1

Penalty minutes: 25

Plus-Minus: Minus-2

Average Ice Time: 7:43

Contract Status: 1 year remaining on 3-year, $4,159,998 contract [2015-16 salary: $832,500; cap hit: $894,167]

Strengths: When he’s locked in and playing his physical brand of hockey, Wilson can be one of the most intimidating and effective players in the game. There were stretches, particularly when he played on a top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, where Wilson was a true power forward, freeing up pucks for Backstrom and Ovechkin while also distracting opponents from marking his linemates. Wilson is also one of the biggest hitters in the game, evidenced by his mammoth check on Islanders 38-year-old defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky in Round 1. He finished fourth on the Capitals and 24th among NHL forwards with 205 hits. He also led the Caps in penalty minutes [172] and fighting majors [12], ranking fourth and sixth in the NHL in those departments, without putting his team at a disadvantage. More impressively, Wilson led the NHL in penalties drawn per game [1.9] for players who played in at least 40 games. His initiating [as opposed to retaliating] tactics allowed the Capitals to get on the power play, where Ovechkin [league-high 25 power-play goals] could do his damage.]

Room for improvement: Wilson saw his ice time increase from 7:56 as a rookie to 10:56 as a second-year player, but he admitted that losing three months of conditioning because of a broken ankle last summer affected his stamina. Despite playing in 15 fewer games this season Wilson increased his shot total [79] by 16, his goal total [4] by one and his point total [17] by seven, but his development as a projected top-six forward was marginal. In the playoffs Wilson averaged just 7:43 of ice time per game, second-lowest on team, ahead of only Michael Latta [6:55]. Wilson said he will spend this summer working on his shooting and stickhandling skills, as well as his skating. All three areas of his game will need to improve dramatically if he hopes to earn the full-time job as the Caps’ top-line right wing.

Memorable Moment: With 5:54 gone in the second period of Game 4 against the New York Islanders, Wilson steamrolled Isles defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky with a clean but vicious body check that knocked Visnovsky out of the playoffs and drew harsh criticism from the Islanders. Forward Kyle Okposo called Wilson “an idiot,” while defenseman Thomas Hickey said the hit made him “sick to my stomach” and Isles captain John Tavares called it a “complete target of a defenseless player.”

Quotable: “I know he’s an older guy. I have so much respect for him. He’s obviously been injury prone, but at the end of the day, he’s playing. He knows how fast the game is. He knows how hard the hits are. It’s the fastest game in the world and probably the hardest hitting game in the world, so those hits are gong to happen. Guys who have played the game who are on [TV] panels, they’re not freaking out about it. They’re not calling me a predator. They understand it was a pretty clean body check, just really hard. That’s the game that we love and that’s the game that we play. I never want to go out and injure guys but I’m going to play as hard as I can within the rules and get in on their D.” – Wilson on his hit on Visnovsky and the firestorm that ensued afterward

2015-16 Expectations: With a full summer of health and a lot of time in the gym and on the ice, Wilson is capable of making his third season in the NHL a breakout year. He’s also heading into restricted free agency  next summer, another reason to put up big numbers.  Wilson’s best years are ahead of him but next season could determine if the Caps see him as a top-six forward or are resigned to the fact his impact will come as a bottom-six forward.

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The pressure is on for Madison Bowey to show he deserves more playing time

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USA Today

The pressure is on for Madison Bowey to show he deserves more playing time

Coming into training camp, we already knew who the Capitals’ seven defensemen were going to be this season. Among those seven is Madison Bowey who, with a new two-year, one-way contract, looks like a lock to make Washington’s roster.

In terms of playing time, however, Bowey still has a lot to prove and, according to Todd Reirden, he has not yet seen enough from him.

“We're going to put [Bowey] in opportunities where he can play minutes and play with different people and see where he's at,” Reirden said Sunday. “Obviously our three pairs we had last year worked well for us and we're fortunate to have all six of those guys back. That being said, he needs to make it a difficult decision for me on a nightly basis. That's in his hands. He needs to push me in that direction of making a change to that group because as of right now he wouldn't be.”

The Capitals’ top four on defense is set meaning Bowey will be competing for time on the third pairing with Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos. With only three preseason games left before the start of the regular season, that makes Tuesday critical for Bowey to show Reirden that he deserves not just to make the team, but to be a regular in the lineup.

“I've always been trying to be a guy that's hard to play against and making sure it's a tough night for the opponents,” Bowey said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “For myself, it's playing a two-way game and sticking to that. When I'm kind of throwing my weight around and being engaged and playing with urgency, I think that's when I'm at my best.”

The issue Reirden sees is that while there are strengths to Bowey’s game, they are not always prevalent on the ice in games.

“I think he's got to continue to allow the things that are difference makers in his game to show up,” Reirden said. “He's a big strong guy that can skate so he's got to be very difficult to play against in the defensive zone. And his skating ability up ice has got to be a factor in terms of adding to the offense when he gets the opportunity and trying to use his shot and his offensive instincts in zone. Those are the things he has in his toolbox that we need to see more on a regular basis.”

In addition to being a physical defenseman, Bowey also possesses strong offensive instincts. Yet, neither aspect of his game was all that evident last season when Bowey was still adjusting to the NHL. That sort of initial struggle is to be expected for many young players who tend to overthink the game. They need time to let the game become more instinctive.

But now, it is time to see improvement from Bowey in those areas.

“When I'm thinking and not just playing my game, that's when you can get into trouble,” he said. “When I'm just playing urgent, trusting my instincts and letting the game come to me, I think that's when I'm at my best.”

When talking about his expectations for him on Tuesday, Reirden described Bowey as a “veteran.” He’s not seen as a developing player anymore.

Clearly, the standard has been raised for Bowey. He needs to respond.

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John Carlson will make his preseason debut Tuesday, but Devante Smith-Pelly will not

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USA TODAY Sports

John Carlson will make his preseason debut Tuesday, but Devante Smith-Pelly will not

A lower-body injury kept defenseman John Carlson out of the first few days of training camp and has thus far kept him out of preseason action. On Tuesday, however, as the Capitals head to St. Louis to take on the Blues, Carlson will be in the lineup for his preseason debut.

Carlson was held out of Friday’s game as a precaution, but head coach Todd Reirden said he was “really close” at that point to returning. He will play with his normal partner Michal Kempny.

Carlson enters the season on a new eight-year contract that he signed in the offseason. This is a big year for him to prove to the team that his career year in 2017-18 (15 goals, 53 assists, 68 points, all career highs) was a reflection of his true value and not simply the result of a motivated player playing for his next contract.

While Carlson is set to make his debut, forward Devante Smith-Pelly still will be held from the lineup.

Tuesday’s game will be Washington’s fifth preseason game out of seven and Smith-Pelly has yet to play in any of them.

Reirden would not go into specifics as to why Smith-Pelly is not in the lineup. When asked Friday, Smith-Pelly called it a “coach’s decision” and said he was not dealing with any injury.

Reirden had no real update to offer on Monday regarding the winger’s status.

“It’s something that we’re going to continue to monitor every day and get him close to playing,” Reirden said.

While no one is expected to play every preseason game, Smith-Pelly is rapidly running out of time to get any playing time in before the start of the regular season. If he is not ready to play yet in the preseason, it is fair to wonder just how far away he may be from suiting up when the games actually start to matter.

Missing Tuesday’s game means there are only two chances left to get Smith-Pelly into the lineup with games on Friday and Sunday.

When asked how many games Smith-Pelly would need to prepare for the season, Reirden said, “Ideally, I'd like to have him ready for as many as possible. As soon as he's ready to play, he'll play.”

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