The message for Capitals forward Tom Wilson is clear. After another year spent primarily on Washington’s fourth line, more will be expected from the 21-year-old next season.
“He’s very mature for a young man, but there are expectations where he needs to grow,” coach Barry Trotz said.
After a sophomore campaign in which Wilson had four goals, 13 assists and a team-high 172 penalty minutes in 67 regular-season games, Trotz and general manager Brian MacLellan agree that Wilson can produce more offensively.
“Willie is one of my favorites,” Trotz said. “I think he’s got a great upside, but at the same time I don’t see him as a fourth line winger for the Washington Capitals. To me, he’s better than that.”
Trotz had high hopes for Wilson entering last season and even played him on the No. 1 line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom for much of November and December.
Wilson, though, didn’t create enough scoring opportunities with two of the game’s most offensively gifted players and eventually saw reduced minutes back on the fourth line.
“I had some success early and then there was a bit of a stalemate,” said Wilson, who missed training camp and the start of the season because of a broken ankle suffered last summer. “I don’t want to say that it set me back, I don’t want to make excuses, but what I will say is that this offseason I’ll be working really hard and I’ll be coming into training camp in a lot better shape than I did last season because of the whole ankle thing.”
Wilson is also targeting a larger role next season after skating an average of 10:56 per game, the second-lowest average ice time on the team among players with at least 15 games played.
“Whether it’s playing with Nicky or Ovi [or elsewhere], I’m going to take the responsibility that Trotz gives me. And being a third-year guy, it’s time I take a little bit more responsibility and definitely work hard at taking that spot.”
MacLellan said this week that acquiring a top-line right winger through trade or free agency is among his offseason priorities, but that a bigger role for Wilson is also in the plans.
“We want to get Wilson more ice time next year. We need to bump him,” MacLellan said. “Maybe not next year, but the year after, we have to turn him into a top-six forward. … We just need him making more plays, doing more with the puck, contributing offensively, and I think we can get that out of him.”
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