Washington Capitals Should Ship Tom Wilson Out of Town

Tom Wilson

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

During the first half of the 2013-14 NHL season, the Washington Capitals have been the epitome of inconsistency with no real rhyme or reason to the sudden changes.  During these repeated bursts of hot and cold streaks, the Capitals have shuffled the roster repeatedly, seen Philipp Grubauer become the undoubted No. 1 goaltender and dressed 27 different skaters, and their 21-16-6 record is a good symbol just how average the team has been.

Through all of this Washington has seen Tom Wilson become a stalwart on the fourth line in the process of becoming the team’s undoubted enforcer.  While Wilson has fit into the type of physical role that any successful NHL team needs, it should be questioned whether he truly should be in Washington at this point.

At 19-years-old there is no doubting that he is not done improving both physically and mentally, but by being consigned to a fourth line role it is hard to imagine this improvement reaching its full potential in the near future.  As a big and physical guy it is clear that Wilson can fill a bottom-six forward role, but when watching him work in front of the net and with the puck one also sees that he has the potential to develop into a top-six forward.

Thus far in 2013-14 Wilson has compiled four points and averaged a lowly 7:02 on the ice per game, which ranks last of any player that Washington has fielded for even one game this year.  Sure he has played in each of the team’s 43 games and leads the Capitals with 85 penalty minutes, but he really is not developing at all. Of course, developing when you aren’t playing is truly impossible, so nobody can blame the 19-year-old for seeing his development stagnate.

Instead of continuing to allow him to languish on the bench, the Capitals should send Wilson back to the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League.  Playing in this environment would allow the forward to develop his finishing ability in front of the net, leave the day-to-day pressure that is associated with playing in the NHL and receive the innate development that is associated with actual game time.

Of course junior hockey is nowhere near the level of the NHL, but development is often more about repetitions than the level of play you are going up against. For Wilson, simply being a fighter off the bench is not providing him with any of the skills and experiences that will allow him to potentially develop into a top-six forward.  In Plymouth it can be assured that he will play in any situation he would ever want and will be better off for it.

When it comes to the Capitals’ outlook for the remainder of the 2013-14 season it is clear that sending Wilson to junior hockey will not truly hurt in any way.  The team must only look to their AHL affiliate — the Hershey Bears – to see that Dane Byers is waiting in the wings as an enforcer.  Sure, he may not bring the youthful exuberance to the locker room that Wilson has, but on the ice there is no way the team will feel little impact from replacing one enforcer with another.

Ultimately sending Wilson back to Plymouth may seem like a rash decision to some, but in the long run it will serve the Capitals well.  The youngster will be able to develop at a reasonable pace and come back to Washington either later in 2013-14 or at the start of the next season as a true impact player, both physically and as a scorer.

Tyler Leli is a Washington Capitals writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter, “Like” him on Facebook or join his network on Google.

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  • anonymous

    questionable logic here. past both the 10 and 40 game marks, CBA would not be in the caps favour in terms of sending him down. also hasnt played an 82 game season before, so could probably use the NHL olympic break – might be better than sending him back to the ohl for a full sched. also 22-16-6 is far from average in the east. ovys having a career year, wouldnt mess with it. nothing wrong with a kid drafted as a power forward playin some 4th line mins and low mins in their first nhl year.

    • Tyler Leli

      I realize that Wilson will still have a year come off his rookie contract if he plays in the OHL, but development should come before finances, not the other way around. Of course this isn’t always the case. But in terms of an 82 game schedule, I did propose bringing him back after the OHL season ends, and if they sent him there at the all-star break he would likely surpass the 82 game threshold. And while doing this stint Wilson could gain repeated reps and come back a more complete player, which will be more valuable to development than grinding on the fourth line.

      In terms of the Capitals actual play, it is hard for me to truly say that they have been anything special thus far. Sure Ovechkin is lighting the world up, but as a unit they have been too streaky too label as an above average side.

  • Robert Wood

    “The Capitals kept Wilson, a junior eligible rookie and the 16th overall pick from the 2012 draft, on the roster this year because they believed he would be better served in the NHL this season even with limited ice time than in the Ontario Hockey League, which he had outgrown.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capitals-insider/wp/2014/01/09/tom-wilson-churns-through-rookie-season-as-fourth-liner/

    • Tyler Leli

      That is fine that they may believe that, but I don’t see it truly serving him well. Of course they are completely different players, but Nino Niederreiter did not benefit found himself in a similar situation with the New York Islanders in 2011-2012 where he was constantly on the bench, and was not improving. After a year in the AHL last season he has been one of the most impressive youngsters for the Minnesota Wild this year. Getting beat up in practice by grown men does not necessarily make you a better player, often times reps are more important. Thank you for the read.