A big-bodied hole has opened in Team Canada's player pool for the world junior championship. The Washington Capitals, while acknowledging there is no "perfect formula" for bringing along budding 19-year-old power winger Tom Wilson, have opted to keep him up for the season rather than return him to the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers.
Wilson is averaging fewer than seven minutes of ice time through seven games with Washington. However, the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder is going to have to learn to play at 'man speed' sooner rather than later, so the Caps have committed to using the first year of his NHL entry-level deal. From Katie Carrera:
[Capitals coach Adam] 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.” (Washington Post)
The Capitals, it goes without saying, are a little handcuffed by the CHL-NHL player agreement that binds a player drafted out of a Hockey Canada-sanctioned league to completing four seasons of junior before being able to play in American Hockey League. On some level, Plymouth probably expected to lose Wilson, who looked like a man among boys during the playoffs last spring. One can see why the Capitals are going to let him learn on the job and see how he responds now that the spectre of being sent back to the OHL isn't dangling over him.
"It's huge; it's awesome; it definitely makes me feel a little bit more comfortable," Wilson said. "Every kid that comes in the league, the league's made a big deal about that nine-, 10-game rule on contracts and all that stuff, so it's always in the back of your mind and you're trying to make the most out of the beginning of the season, but definitely be able to settle in a little bit and almost have that mindset that I'm going to be around and start to get comfortable." (NBC Washington)
Part of the reason Wilson's stock rose in the run up to the 2012 draft, where Washington tapped him with the No. 16 overall pick, is that he was a rare quality in that draft year and a rough-and-tumble wing without limited offensive capabilities. He nearly bashed his way on to Team Canada with an outstanding selection camp, but the decision-makers ultimately opted to take the older Anthony Camara and Mark McNeill over to Ufa. The group that Canada had at its summer development camp really didn't have a player with Wilson's physical profile. Two OHL team captains, the Belleville Bulls' Brendan Gaunce and Kerby Rychel, are each bigger-bodied forwards, although neither profiles quite the same as Wilson.
Of course, how important this is depends on what kind of team head coach Brent Sutter and head coach Ryan Jankowski envision sending to Malmo, Sweden in December. Trying to win through brutalizing opponents hasn't really worked lately.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.