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Tom Wilson Takes On Russia

Posted August 14, 2012

Caps prospect Tom Wilson (white jersey) will take on anything that gets in his way. Including Russia (Photo Credit: M. Richter)

For the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series (Canada v. Soviet Union, which launched that tagline about the “Greatest Rivalry in Hockey” that comes up every time the countries meet at the World Championships & Olympics), the creatively named 2012 Canada-Russia Challenge is being held in Yaroslavl & Halifax.  Lucky for Caps fans, first-round draft pick Tom Wilson was selected to Team Canada, providing an excuse to watch fresh hockey in the off-season.  Lucky for Canadian Caps fans, it’s even available on TV.  Sorry, Southerners.

When Wilson steps onto the ice, the first thing you notice is his size: at 6’4″ and 203 lbs, his eighteen year old body still has room to grow.  The second thing you notice is that he likes to hit anything that moves.  Voted as “Best Body Checker” in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL)’s Western Conference Coaches Poll, he knows when and how to throw a hit during a game (he’s pretty handy in a scuffle, as well).

We’d apologize for the overwhelming pink of the above video, but there was no way it wasn’t getting included in this post.  For posterity, you understand.

For Caps fans, the first time Tom Wilson’s name popped up was at the 2012 Draft, where he went 16th overall.  The first time they saw him in person was this summer’s development camp, where he again made it known that he’s willing to use his size and get involved physically.  He’s big, he’s not afraid to use his body, and he’s good at getting the energy flowing all around.  In other words, he could be just what the Capitals are looking for.

Despite the tone of his D-Camp interviews, his penchant for physicality isn’t Wilson’s only asset.  Drafted 27th overall by the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers in 2010, he’s had a solid junior career despite two injury-plagued seasons. After playing just 49 regular season games, he still managed to shine in the playoffs last season, scoring thirteen points in thirteen games.

When it comes to technical offensive skill, Wilson has some growing to do, but he’s definitely on the right track.  While at development camp, he demonstrated a willingness and ability to get creative with the puck and stick himself in front of the net to create secondary chances. He played significant minutes in the scrimmages, and proved that he’s not afraid of the corners and often creates offensive plays off the boards.

From a fan’s perspective, Wilson is an exciting prospect on a basic talent level, bringing a strong work ethic and versatile range of abilities to the rink.  While you can’t determine just what he’ll become in the future – he’s got a great upside, but a long way to go in order to reach it – he’ll most certainly be an interesting player to keep your eyes on for the next few years as he improves his offensive game.  If all goes well, Wilson’s hard work and competitive spirit could easily see him stepping into a role as a second or third line NHL power-forward.

The 2012 Canada Russia Challenge has provided Wilson with a second taste of national-level visibility, but in a much more limited role.  Playing on the fourth line for Team Canada, he’s been making the most of his scarce minutes.  In just ten shifts in the second game of the series (played in Yaroslavl, Russia on August 10), he created multiple plays in both the offensive and defensive zones, including drawling an interference penalty from a Russian player while creating traffic in front of the net.

While only a single game remains in the series (Canada currently trails Russia 2-1 after a 6-5 loss in game three.  Games one and two were a 3-2 victory and 6-3 loss, respectively), Wilson’s power and physical play have not been utilized as well as they could have been by the coaching staff.  In game two especially, the Canadian players were repeatedly out-muscled on the puck, and lapsed into undisciplined penalties throughout the game.  A stronger physical presence of their own might well have helped to balance things out and calm the frustration apparent on the ice.

Stats Note: In game three, played in Halifax, NS on the 13th, Wilson earned one of three Canadian penalties, taking an early goaltender interference call while screening Russia’s Andrei Makarov.  It has been his only appearance on the scoresheet thus far, though his hits would litter a play-by-play breakdown quite liberally.

The final game of the Canada Russia Challenge will be played on August 14th at 7PM EDT.  Information on following the game can be found here on the Hockey Canada Website.  Even if Wilson remains on the team’s fourth line, expect him to be a visible contributor over the coming year – in Halifax, today, and quite possibly in Ufa, Russia, in December at the World Junior Championships.

Update (8/15): Team Canada defeated Russia 4-2 in Game 4, tying the series and forcing a tie-breaking period of play.  Tom Wilson was assessed two minor penalties during the game, Boarding in first period and Face-Off Interference in the third.  NY Islanders’ prospect Ryan Strome scored the series-winning goal 3:20 into the extra period.

M. Richter contributed to this article.

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