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Tom Wilson's Game is Evolving, Slowly But Surely

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A look at the Caps' young third-line wing's growth.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Some players enter into the League with an expectation as to the type of player they'll be. Alex Ovechkin entered under the auspices that he would be an immediate superstar. He was. Evgeny Kuznetsov entered the League, after a prolonged stay in Russia, with the expectation that he'd bring the skill and vision to be a top-sox center. He's far exceeded that projection.

Tom Wilson was called a "man amongst boys" during his days in juniors, boasting size and offensive production, and figured to slot into an NHL lineup as a prototypical power forward. He was getting an NHL sweater on a regular basis at age 18, and in his three seasons in the bigs has not disappointed in delivering the physical impact foretold by his scouting report.

The offensive element, however, has been a bit slower in coming.

But has it really?

We speculated before the season started that, due to the roster makeup of the Capitals' roster, Wilson had a pretty good shot at making a big jump in his career (though it wasn't the first time we had that thought). Well through 61 games played, he's already set career highs in goals (5), assists (14) and, obviously, points (19). But more to the point, he's effectively managed his role on the third line — viewed by his coach as a scoring line — on a team currently achieving historic levels of NHL regular season success.

Oh yeah, and he's only 21. Easy to forget, given that Willy's already eclipsed the 200 game mark in his career, the fifth member of his draft class (and second forward) to do so.

With this visual from war-on-ice.com, we can see how Wilson's production has gradually increased as his leash has been lengthened:

And if, centered by Marcus Johansson now, you'd expect Wilson to start pulling the trigger a bit more, your expectations would be in-line with reality. Willy's been firing the pill at a higher rate than he ever has in his career.

via Corsica Hockey

But even as Willy's offensive skill develops, he's becoming a fixture elsewhere. Notably the Caps' 4th ranked penalty kill unit, where only Justin Williams has better shot suppression numbers, and only TJ Oshie has seen more ice time amongst, uh, current Caps' forwards.

Sure, Tom Wilson isn't Milan Lucic, like we thought he might be when he came into the League, and maybe he's not exactly "the missing piece",  but Wilson's game is clearly evolving according to the team's needs, and in the midst of the best year-long run in team history, it's tough to ask much more of the young bruiser. There's still plenty of time for the offensive part of Wilson's game to catch up -- just a season ago Wilson produced 5v5 points at a better rate than Evgeny Kuznetsov.

And let's not forget Tom Wilson's ability to draw penalties, which he does better than anyone else on the team (although he also takes them at a higher rate than anyone on the team). This is a particularly potent asset on a team that boasts strong units on both sides of the special teams coin. But so long as the Caps special teams unit stays strong, Wilson's relationship with the referees nets out positive for the Caps: based on the Caps' special teams percentages his 22 penalties taken flesh out to 3.5 PPG against created and his 17 penalties drawn have yielded 4 PPG created.

Willy's career is still underway, and it's already seen a fair bit of diversity: one coaching change, a handful of different roles, and glimpses up and down the lineup. He's been a wrecking ball on the fourthline. He's currently honing his skill on the third line. And he's even seen time up top with the big dogs, and carried himself well there.

(via Puckalytics)

For the time being, Wilson just needs to keep doing whatever he's been doing (okay, maybe cool it on the PIMs -- Barry's watching) that's got the third line scoring at a better rate than the team's top two lines.