Following the Capitals amazing Stanley Cup winning run in 2018, players on the team who had long been ostracized by nationwide media, finally received the credit they deserved. The franchise’s veteran cornerstones, Ovechkin and Backstrom, were finally crowned as all-time greats. Up-and-coming superstars like Kuznetsov and Carlson started to get nationwide attention. And the team’s third and fourth line guys, Smith-Pelly, Beagle, and Lars Eller, garnered respect from the rest of the league and became D.C. heroes. One player whose label didn’t change was the Capitals’ big-hitting 24-year-old right winger, Tom Wilson.
For his whole career, Wilson has been seen as one of the NHL’s notorious goons, up there with names like Ryan Reaves and Milan Lucic. During the 2018 Playoffs, Wilson added fuel to the fire by leading the league with 100 hits, getting into some fights in pivotal moments, and, of course, laying some controversial hits throughout the run. The first of these hits came in game 3 against the Penguins. It left Zach Aston-Reese with a broken jaw and a concussion and it left Tom Wilson suspended for the next three games. The Caps went on to win that series and Tom came back to play a pivotal role in helping the team lift their first cup in franchise history.
Fast forward to the Capitals last preseason game this year against the Blues. Blues center, Oskar Sundqvist, comes across the middle with his head down and Wilson lights him up, making clear contact with his head. Wilson was suspended for the first 20 games of this season and his position as one of the NHL’s goons had been erased, he was now THE GOON. Fans of opposing teams trash him at any point they can; and, honestly, if I weren’t a die-hard Caps fan, I probably would too. Some of the hits he makes cannot be defended by any rational Caps fan; however, while he has been making a big name for himself in this aspect of the game, he has quietly become one of the Capitals most impactful offensive forces and a leader of the team.
During the 2018 playoff run, Wilson put up 15 points in 21 games with a +11 goal difference while he was on the ice. Since returning from suspension this year, he has put up 9 goals and 15 points in 13 games to go along with a +9 rating. Along with these great offensive numbers, the team went 8-2 in the first 10 games he played, even with superstars like Kuznetsov and Oshie being sidelined by injury. The reason the Capitals inked Wilson to a huge 6-year extension with an AAV of 5.17 million per year this offseason is not only due to his physical impact on the ice, but also the offensive skill set he has developed over the past couple of years.
Late in the playoffs last year, the Capitals radio announcer, John Walton, took notice of Wilson’s vital impact on the ice during the Vegas series. He kept stressing that the Capitals could not afford to lose Wilson to a 5-minute fighting major, no matter how much Ryan Reaves got under his skin, because he was too important to the team. Reaves, on the other hand, is an expandable 4th line asset who made a name for himself with great fights and hard hits but has never put up more than 13 points in one of his 9 full NHL seasons (for reference, Wilson surpassed this mark in the first 10 games this season). The difference between Tom Wilson and the other goons of the NHL is that Wilson has expanded his game to be so much more than just fighting and hitting. But regardless of his play, NHL fans and media worldwide neglect to see this truth and elect to keep calling him the goon.