Even if you didn't watch the Subway Super Series game on Monday, you know that NHL first overall pick Nail Yakupov had his helmet cracked by after a massive open-ice check by the Plymouth Whalers' Tom Wilson, a first-round pick of the Washington Capitals.
A lucky fan in Sarnia, where Yakupov played his junior hockey, of course, got The Saucy Tatar's broken bucket as a keepsake. The upshot for Yakupov is that he shook off being flattened at centre ice and recovered to score Team Russia's lone goal in its 2-1 loss to the OHL. Meantime, those across the Ontario Hockey League who have regularly seen Wilson's move-and-you're-fair-game modus operandi nodded in approval.
The check is also a jumping-off point to touch on, if only briefly and superficially, on whether Wilson's checking and defensive tenacity could make him a role player for Team Canada — in a world junior tournament that's going to be on European ice, and where a NHL lockout could leave Canada with a surfeit of forwards. The 18-year-old is on another strata from his peers when it comes to being able to throw his weight around. (He's only played in 10 of the Whalers' 19 games, but has 11 points).
A big forward who can deliver heavy checks that reverberate through both benches can be very handy in a short tournament such as the world junior, where one loss can throw off an entire team. Wilson's draft stock shot up last season since there was no other forward who seemed to possess that particular specialty. No doubt there are learned observers who think the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Toronto native could carve out a spot as a role player.
I'd love to see Tom Wilson take his seek and destroy show to the 4th line of Team Canada. #SubwaySuperSeries
— Mark Edwards (@MarkEdwardsHP) November 13, 2012
Tom Wilson is fun to watch. He's a mile a minute always looking to dish out that big hit. Players like him can change momentum in a flash.
— Gene Pereira (@GenePereira1) November 13, 2012
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) November 13, 2012
There should scarcely be a shred of doubt that Wilson will advance to the NHL very quickly once his OHL days are done. Who's got the best chance of being a big-leaguer and who can help Canada win an international tournament overlap a great deal but are not completely one and the same. There's still a need for some of that, though. The tweet below from Windsor Star beat writer Jim Parker was an indirect reminder of another bull-in-a-china-shop behemoth whom Team Canada took, which resulted in having a short bench for some of the tournament:
— Jim Parker (@winstarparker) November 10, 2012
Kassian earned a two-game ban during the 2011 WJC in Buffalo for a blindside check on the Czech Republic's Petr Senkerik. To be fair, Kassian had been suspended in the OHL, whereas Wilson hasn't had any major discipline issues. It would also be a huge stretch to tie having to operate with 11 forwards for part of the tournament to Canada's eventual silver-medal result, given that it had a 3-0 lead in the gold-medal game until Russia rallied. (Jaden Schwartz's ankle injury was the worst loss.) However, the long-standing concern about international referees always plays into it when looking for players who can physically without beating a path to the penalty box.
In any event, it's easy to see why Wilson has his supporters. Dallas Stars second-round choice Brett Ritchie, a 19-year-old who is Wilson's size (listed at 6-4, 215) and a more accomplished junior scorer with the Niagara IceDogs, is also among the candidates to supply a side of Canadian beef in Ufa. Who knows, maybe that turns on whom head scout Kevin Prendergast, coach Steve Spott, et al., believe is more likely to bring that each game.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.