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Capitals forward Tom Wilson ‘not close enough’ to begin rehab stint debate

The Capitals see Tom Wilson returning within the next several weeks, which would be nice because we don’t have any new pictures of him. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press).
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Capitals forward Tom Wilson dressed again in the light-blue non-contact uniform for practice Monday, symbolically separated from his teammates but still inching closer to a return.

“Starting to feel a lot better, starting to get into battles,” said Wilson, who underwent ankle surgery in July. “Strength and balance is still coming, but it’s feeling pretty good. I think just every day is starting to feel a little bitter. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact date, but hopefully shortly soon.”

Washington placed Wilson on regular injured reserve before the regular season began, meaning he could be activated as soon as this week, during a three-game homestand beginning Tuesday vs. San Jose.

Whenever that time comes, the Capitals will choose between sending Wilson outright to Hershey, for a pressure-free rehabilitation stint in the Bears’ top six, or keeping him in Washington for minimal fourth-line minutes before later heading to the AHL.

But Coach Barry Trotz, without committing to a specific timetable, hinted that time might not come this week.

“In my mind, it is a little bit, but we haven’t debated it yet,” Trotz said. “He’s not close enough where we have to debate it. I think it’ll just be a conversation with the trainers, probably Willy, myself and [general manager Brian MacLellan] and see what’s the best route to take. I don’t think it’s something that will consume us. We’ll talk about it one of these days when he gets the clearance to do that.”

Wilson’s return will coincide with several more roster decisions. Forward Jay Beagle (upper body) felt close to playing again after suffering a preseason injury at Montreal and has targeted this homestand. With Wilson and Beagle around, would the Capitals send Chris Brown and Liam O’Brien, both waiver-exempt, to Hershey? Would they make room in another way?

“I’ve not really thought about that at all,” Trotz said. “Actually been thinking about last game in Boston and the game in San Jose. … Just day to day. I think right now they’re probably … I would be more concerned, or think about it more at the end of the week.”

The 20-year-old Wilson, who skated in 82 games as a rookie last season, said he is still gathering strength after the injury kept him off his feet for several months. He reported to training camp with solid body-fat scores, able to conduct upper-body lifts during the summer, but had lost weight in his legs and only recently started squatting.

“It’s just little stuff,” Wilson said. “Coming around the net, loading that ankle and pushing off — it’s still a little of the power and strength coming along. But once I’m skating around and stuff, it feels good. It’s starting to get pretty encouraging here.”

Wilson, too, was unsure about his timetable for returning, though watching a strong Capitals start — with three points in two games, against Montreal and Boston — left him eager to get back.

“There’s going to be bad days, there’s going to be good days,” Wilson said. “Some days it’s more sore than others. Just coming in every day and hopefully we’ll see once it feels good, I think I’ll know when I can jump back in.

“Obviously my goal right now is focused on getting back. It’s hard to think past that right now. That’s definitely the immediate goal. I’m excited about this season as a whole. The guys look great. They’re working a lot harder it seems this year, and we’re coming together. Its’ going to be an exciting season. Individually, I’m excited to see what responsibilities I have and grow as a player, but the real exciting thing’s going to be the team this year.”