Who likes Tom Wilson news? Because we’ve got some! Yes, the Washington Capitals right winger got into again Wednesday night, taking on Pittsburgh Penguins giant Jamie Oleksiak in a fight and promptly putting the defenseman to the ice with a big punch.
Pittsburgh and Washington have a bit of a rivalry, if you weren’t aware (I don’t do emojis, but this is where they would be), and the Wilson-Oleksiak beef dates back to the playoffs, when Wilson broke Zach Aston-Reese’s jaw with a suspendable hit. Oleksiak couldn’t get Wilson to square up with him then, so he made sure to ruffle some Penguin feathers early on in their most recent tilt in order to get Wilson’s attention.
It didn’t go well for Oleksiak.
Now, the Caps-Pens rivalry (aka the Bic Bowl and no, I am not sorry for the office supply pun) has been great throughout the careers of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin and even the two captains were jawing at each other during their latest encounter, but I want to stay on Wilson here because as controversial as he is right now, he’s also an incredibly effective player when he’s in the lineup and not straying too far over the line.
Oleksiak is 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds and Wilson knocked him out with very little effort. Lucky shot? You can tell yourself that, but it still happened. The fact that Wilson plays on Washington’s top line means he cannot be ignored by opposing teams because he’s not the standard-issue goon. Heck, we barely have any of those in the NHL anymore because you can’t be slow and offensively useless.
Which got me thinking: Who can hang with Tom Wilson in the NHL today?
The one obvious answer is Ryan Reaves. The Vegas Golden Knights enforcer put Wilson on the shelf with a dodgy hit earlier this season, but even earlier in the game, he was in his head. Reaves – who was briefly a Pittsburgh Penguin, ironically – has enough talent to take a regular shift in Vegas, but he’s also a powerful fighter and hitter. Too bad they don’t play against each other again this season.
There are other candidates who can stand up to Wilson, but you get into the problem of value. Dustin Byfuglien and Zdeno Chara, for example, both have the heft and the strength to square up with the power forward, but having a star defenseman in the box for five minutes or more doesn’t seem like a good tradeoff. Similarly, I’d love to see Jamie Benn fight Wilson, but I’m sure the Dallas Stars would be mortified at the thought of their captain potentially getting injured in a tilt, even if Wilson did something grievous to one of Benn’s teammates (on the other hand, that’s what makes Benn such a good captain and power forward himself – he can beat you on the scoreboard or with his fists).
Send out a standard-issue goon to fight Wilson and you’re putting a fourth-liner out on the ice against Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, as well. Wilson is too smart to drop his gloves in that situation.
Love him or hate him (and I feel there are few neutral observers when it comes to Wilson), the Capitals right winger has carved out a pretty interesting space in today’s NHL. And he added another chapter to his book with the Oleksiak fight.