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Wilson discovers new role on Capitals top line

Wilson's development has been steady over the course of his career, going from a top prospect to a fourth-line player to now playing on Washington's top line.

by Ben Brown @benbrown04 /

Following the Capitals tough loss to the Calgary Flames on Nov. 20, head coach Barry Trotz made a few changes to his lineup, most notably putting Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson on his top line. While reuniting Ovechkin and Backstrom generated headlines, the unsung player in that trio has been Tom Wilson, who is putting together his best offensive season as an NHL player.

Through 22 games, Wilson has scored eight points (2g, 6a) and he's averaging 0.36 points-per-game. His previous career high for points-per-game came in the 2015-16 season when he averaged 0.28 points-per-game, and finished the season with 23 points (7g, 16a).

Wilson's development has been steady over the course of his career, going from a top prospect to a fourth-line player to now playing on Washington's top line.

Video: TBL@WSH: Ovechkin blasts one-timer past Vasilevskiy

"I think every year you play in the league you get a little more comfortable and you sort of adapt to the level of play," Wilson said. "When you come out of junior it can be pretty overwhelming, it's really fast and high-paced. Coming into my fifth season I've had seasons where I've been a little more offensive than others, but I've just tried to work on being more comfortable with the puck and taking my time with it. You learn how to play out there and the spots you can go to make things happen.

"Watching guys in our locker room like Osh and Nicky and how smart they are in the areas they go to score goals. This season's been pretty good so far. For me it's just going out there and playing as hard as I can and making a play when it needs to be made, and hopefully the puck goes into the net."

Video: EDM@WSH: Orlov buries Wilson's fantastic dish

Immediately following the lineup change, the Capitals ripped off three wins in a row, with a substantial amount of production coming from the team's top line.

Through the first four games of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Wilson playing on the top line together, the trio has generated a 54.54 shot attempts percentage at five-on-five (53 shot attempts for, 44 shot attempts against). The line has also produced a 60 percent high-danger scoring chances for percentage (nine high-danger scoring chances for, six against).

"Backstrom and Ovechkin are two world class players," Wilson said. "When they have the puck you know it's in good hands, so my job is a little bit more of getting the puck back and creating space for them. Nicky is one of the smartest players in the game right now, and when he has the puck you've just got to get open and start thinking about your next play because he'll get it to you and then you've got to make things happen. Then you've got one of the best goal scorers of our generation, so they complement each other very well and whatever I can do to bring to that line I'm just going to try to bring energy and move my feet and create space for them." 

Video: WSH@BOS: Wilson deflects Orpik's shot home bar-down

With Wilson's 6'4", 218-pound frame, he's able to use his style as a power forward to carve out space close to the net to create more scoring chances for Ovechkin and Backstrom. Wilson's average shooting distance of 29.5 feet is the fourth shortest distance among players with at least 20 games played on the team, while Ovechkin ranks 12th at 32.7 feet, and Backstrom ranks 14th at 33.0 feet.

"So far it's been great having him on the line with me and Ovi," Backstrom said. "He's a great fore-checker, he forechecks really hard and he's great at getting the puck back for us. He's got a lot of skill that he hasn't really had the opportunity to show so far. It's great to have him on our line and I definitely feel safe out there."

As Wilson has improved his game offensively, head coach Barry Trotz has put Wilson on the ice more this season than he has in any year of his career. Through 22 games, Wilson is averaging 14:47 minutes per game, which is nearly two minutes more than he averaged in 2016-17. Although the increased playing time brings added wear and tear, Wilson welcomes the challenge and relishes the added responsibility.

Video: WSH@BOS: Wilson sinks loose puck on sharp angle

"It's still an adjustment playing more this year," Wilson said. "We just played a back-to-back last week and I played 16 minutes and 18 minutes back-to-back, so it's definitely a little different than playing nine and 10 minutes on back-to-back nights. You have to be in better shape and keep your feet moving and you've got to take care of your body. It's a little different but I obviously enjoy it. I've got more responsibility and opportunities. When you're out on the ice for that many minutes a lot more stuff happens, you're dealt more scenarios and situations, and it's more exciting to grow my game and take that responsibility and work with it." 

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