Love him or hate him, Tom Wilson is an intriguing player. Few play with the tenacity and aggressiveness that the Washington Capitals winger showcases, and even fewer tough guys possess the same scoring touch. You're lying to yourself if you say you wouldn't want him on your team.
However, that doesn't change that Wilson is one of the most hated men in the NHL. The Wikipedia blurb on his suspension history is about half the size of his pro career section, and with 61 fights over six NHL seasons, he's gotten himself into a fair amount of trouble. Of his six fights this season – the fewest of his NHL career – users on HockeyFights.com say Tom Wilson has won five of them. And with his pugilism and penchant for ending up on the wrong side of the law, Wilson has earned himself a reputation, one that makes it hard to believe that he has a rather clean record when it comes to regular-season hockey.
He does, though. In fact, Wilson has never been suspended for his actions during the regular season. Of course, he's been dinged three times in the pre-season and once during the playoffs, but for a guy living on the edge, Wilson has managed to play all 82 games in three of his five full-time seasons. After serving a 14-game suspension to kick off this season for a hit to the head of St. Louis Blues winger Oskar Sundqvist during the pre-season, Wilson's record was spotless aside from the 128 penalty minutes he racked up.
And that's the player, the one on the right side of the law, that the Capitals want to show up in the post-season. If the Caps are to have another long playoff run, having Wilson in the lineup and not in the press box will be vital. During last year's run, when he wasn't out for trying to decapitate Pittsburgh Penguins winger Zach Aston-Reese, Wilson had 15 points in 21 games, good enough to tie for 21st in playoff scoring. And throughout this season, Wilson has done everything to prove that he can make his impact felt in another way.
As the NHL has shied away from toughness over the past few seasons, the guys who have survived the culture change are the ones who can actually put pucks in the net. Now, more than ever, Wilson fits that mold. While he's known for getting under the skin of some star players around the league, this season saw Wilson prove he can hang with them skill-wise, too. Not only did he finish with a career-high 22 goals and 40 points in 63 games, but according to HockeyReference.com, Wilson's 2.1 points-per-60-minutes rate is the best of his career, beating out his 1.7 from Washington's Stanley Cup run last season. And his shooting percentage, 16.9 percent, was also higher than it has ever been, and despite missing 19 games, he finished with a career-high 130 shots. Playing with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom doesn't hurt Wilson's ability to contribute offensively, but his mix of size, strength and increased scoring prowess has made him an invaluable power forward on a line that already features one of the most dynamic scoring duos in the league.
Now that he has established himself as a terrifying presence to play against who can also score at a solid rate, the expectations for Wilson have to be higher as the Caps chase a second straight Cup. That may suit Wilson best – his aggressive play has made him a target for attention, and if last year's playoff run was any indication, he thrives when more eyes are on him. It's time to take Wilson serious as a dangerous forward for reasons other than his ability to crash and bang.