Tom Wilson heard what Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said after the season -- about how the Caps would like to turn him into the team’s next Joel Ward, an immovable object in front of opponents’ nets.
On Friday, after signing a two-year, $4 million contract to remain with the Capitals, Wilson said he welcomes the challenge.
“Wardo is an exceptional guy on and off the ice,” Wilson said. “Just being compared to him is pretty cool. He was like an older brother to me, almost like a father figure to me in my first couple years."
“He’s a great guy and he’s really good at what he does. If I’m going to help the team out I have to continue to be really good at what I do and I can grow into that player – be good on the walls, make good plays on the breakouts, make smart plays in the offensive end, use my body. He’s so good at protecting the puck. He’s a guy I tried to watch as much as I could while he was in D.C. and I watched the playoffs to see how he was effective."
“If I could kind of mold into that type of player that would be awesome. I think our team needs that kind of guy. We need a Steady Eddie guy that’s going to produce and help the team out on any given night. Wardo was that for us and he was that for the Sharks this year.”
Ward, a 6-1, 226-pound right wing who signed with San Jose last summer, put up 21 goals and 22 assists in 79 games with the Sharks, and another seven goals and six assists in 24 playoff games.
Wilson, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound right wing, is 13 years younger than Ward. In 82 games with the Capitals he put up a career-high seven goals and 16 assists, but was limited to just one assist in 12 playoff games.
“We're optimistic with him,” MacLellan said of Wilson’s offensive upside. “He had, what, 30 points this year? (23, actually). Seven goals. Good improvement over last year. We expect the improvement to continue. He's still a young guy. He's got good size, is a good character guy, he provides a physical element. We're anticipating his offensive game to continue to grow.”
Last season, Wilson saw his average ice time increase from 10:56 in 2014-15 (when he netted four goals and 13 assists) to 12:54. Some of that extra ice time came on the penalty kill, where he averaged 1:35 a night. But Wilson saw just six seconds a game on the power play, a role that could expand with the departure of Jason Chimera, who averaged 1:26 of power-play time last season.
“He needs to show that he can handle it,” MacLellan said. “The coaches, they express what they're looking from him to be put in more of those situations and if he can come in and do well, he'll get more responsibility on the offensive side.”
To that end, Wilson said he is spending more time this summer working on his puck-handling skills and offensive positioning without losing sight of the energy and physicality he can provide. Last season Wilson led the Caps and finished 10th in the NHL with 253 hits.
“I think anyone who’s watched me play or watched the Caps know I’m kind of a heart-and-soul guy,” Wilson said. “I just try and go out there and do whatever I can to help the team win.
“I know the first day you guys talked to me (in 2012) I said I would play whatever role the coaches gave me and do something every night to prove I should stay in the lineup. Every year I’ve grown a little bit and got more and more responsibility. I don’t expect that to change.
"The responsibility and growth of the player should continue to come every year. I’m still young and I’m in a fortunate position. I want to take on a bigger role every year. It’s an exciting time in D.C. right now. It’s a fun group to be a part of and I’m thrilled. I wanted to be back in Washington. I love it there. I just want to win there.”
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