When Tom Wilson was called into Coach Adam Oates’s office Friday morning, he thought it would be a typical conversation about an upcoming game or system work until he saw General Manager George McPhee in the meeting.
“I was like, ‘Uh oh this might not be good,’” said Wilson, 19. But the rookie winger’s concerns were unfounded. “Fortunately for me, it was good news that they’re going to keep me around every day. But you never want to get too comfortable. It’s still day by day and proving myself, for sure.”
McPhee and Oates ultimately decided to keep Wilson, the 16th overall pick in the 2012 draft, with the Capitals, which means this season will count against his three-year entry-level contract.
Unless he misses a game, Wilson will play in his 10th NHL contest on Oct. 24 when the Capitals visit Edmonton, and with that benchmark the year will count against his contract. Technically, the Capitals could still choose to send Wilson back to the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers at any time this season even though they’re electing to use this year on his contract, but that seems unlikely.
Wilson has seen limited ice time on the fourth line through the first seven games of the season and, barring an injury, will likely remain there for the foreseeable future. Of the 52 rookies who have played at least four games this season, Wilson’s average ice time (6:41) ranks 50th.
But Oates believes Wilson is better served even with a minor role in the NHL than he would be as a standout against his peers in juniors.
“We’ve obviously liked his progression, so many things he brings. It’s a tough decision. We’ve talked about it a lot of times, about how we don’t want to hold him back,” Oates said. “He can go back to junior and score goals and get assists and play 20 minutes but develops a lot of bad habits and they’re not the goals you’d score here, not the assists you’d get here. They’re not the situations or the speed you’d get here. We don’t have the perfect formula, no question, but we think he belongs and we want him and the teammates love him. Hopefully he’ll continue to grow.”
Now that Wilson knows he’ll be staying in Washington, the Capitals are looking into finding him a more permanent living arrangement than staying in a hotel across the street from KCI. The team is conferring with Wilson’s family about considering the option of finding a billet family for Wilson, who is still a teenager, to take away some of the extra pressures of being an adult living on his own.
“The rest, the food, nutrition,” Oates said. “Maybe if a guy’s single he’s got nothing in his fridge. Come home from a road trip [to a] bottle of water and butter. That’s what I had.”