Over the last 11 years, the Caps have witnessed Tom Wilson's gradual evolution from first-round draft pick (16th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft) to fourth-line NHL winger to a top line fixture, watching proudly as he built and grew his game bit by bit while also taking on a greater role with more responsibilities on and off the ice. When Wilson missed the entire first half of the 2022-23 season while rehabbing a torn ACL, Washington also got a healthy taste of life without him in its lineup.

With the 29-year-old Toronto native heading into the final season of a five-year contract extension this fall, one of the most pressing issues on the Capitals' "to do" list between now and next July 1 was to come to terms with Wilson on a contract extension.

On Friday morning, the team announced an agreement with the big winger on a seven-year, $45.5 million deal that will commence with the 2024-25 season. Wilson's pact will carry a salary cap hit of $6.5 million annually through the 2030-31 season. The Wilson extension is Washington's longest current contractual commitment to any player, exceeding Dylan Strome's extension - signed in February of this year - by three seasons.

As eager as the Caps were to get Wilson signed to an extension, Washington's No. 43 was every bit as determined to stay here in the District. In a conversation at his locker stall at MedStar Capitals Iceplex just under four months ago, Wilson made that much clear.

"I'm not going to be the guy that plays hardball and keeps my cards close," he said. "In a perfect world, I'm here my whole career. I don't ever want to think of having to play anywhere else. But you and I both know this is a business, and stuff can happen. Weird stuff can happen, whether it's what I want or whether it's what the team wants. Who knows what's going to happen next year?

"I hope it doesn't come to a point where these huge decisions with a lot of pressure are being made. I'd love to be here and to know that I'm going to be here. If it gets to next summer, and the team maybe doesn't know which way they're going, and it puts everything in a tough position."

Not to worry, kid. With 11 months to spare, Wilson and the Caps were able to find some common ground and they got a deal done.

"I think Mac [general manager Brian MacLellan] knows I want to be here, I think [majority owner] Ted [Leonsis] knows I want to be here and I think everyone knows I want to be here," said Wilson in mid-April of this year. "That's no secret. There is a business element to the game, but I want to be here, helping [Alex Ovechkin] do his thing and I want to be here helping this city win games and playing for these fans."

Wilson made his NHL debut in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs (more on that in just a bit). After he made Washington's opening night roster for 2013-14 as a teenager a few months later, he spent his first NHL season living with a billet family in the area, a situation the Caps helped arrange for him. (When Wilson had his day with the Cup - five years ago tomorrow, in fact - his former D.C. billet family was there in attendance.)

Playing exclusively on the fourth line, Wilson played all 82 games as a 19-year-old rookie, logging an average of 7:56 per night while putting up three goals and 10 points. All season long, he amassed a grand total of eight minutes of special team time - only three seconds of which came while the Caps were shorthanded - and he scored his first NHL goal on the power play, on Nov. 5, 2013 against the New York Islanders.

Five years would pass, Wilson would play 383 more NHL games and would win the Stanley Cup before he scored his next power-play goal, on Nov. 26, 2018, also against the Islanders.

As he enters his 11th NHL season this fall, Wilson is the only player on the team who has averaged a minute and a half or more per night on both special teams since the start of the Cup-winning 2017-18 season. Among all NHL forwards who have played in at least 200 games over that same span, only 25 have averaged a minute and a half per night in both shorthanded and power play ice time. Wilson didn't play regularly on the penalty kill until his third season in the League and didn't become a regular on the extra man unit until his fifth season.

Since the outset of the 2017-18 season, Wilson has earned and received top six ice time and his production has been steady and consistent; he is second on the team in even-strength goals over that span. In each of the last five seasons, he has posted between .63 and .70 points per game, and his shooting pct. has been between 13.6 and 16.9 pct. in each of those campaigns. He has scored between 21-24 or more goals in three of the last five seasons, and he scored a total of 26 goals in a combined 80 games in the other two seasons during that stretch.

After racking up 100 or more PIM in each of his first six seasons in the NHL, Wilson has kept that total under triple digits for each of the last four seasons, though he did lead the League with 96 in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season.

Simply put, Wilson is a legitimate power forward in a circuit in which power forwards are in short supply. Add in his special team prowess, his physicality and his unrelenting dedication to protecting and defending his teammates, and Wilson is a highly desirable player who is still in his prime. Had he entered the free agent market next summer, he'd have had no shortage of suitors.

Throughout Wilson's tenure in Washington, the Caps have been a team that pushes up against the upper limits of the salary cap, and this season will be no exception. By the time his new pact kicks in at the outset of the 2024-25 season, the upper limit is expected to be several million dollars higher than this season's $83.5 million figure, so the team will be able to accommodate Wilson's 25 percent pay increase.

Wilson is the youngest of the remaining group of core players from Washington's Stanley Cup championship team five years ago. With 680 career games played, Wilson is tied (with teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov) for 15th place on the Capitals' all-time games played ledger, and he ranks third among the 2012 NHL Draft class, tops among all forwards from that draft.

Just over 10 years ago, Wilson achieved the rare feat of suiting up for his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, doing so before he had even played in an NHL preseason game, and just weeks after celebrating his 19th birthday.

With Friday's news of his extension, Wilson now has an opportunity to become one of a limited number of players to play in the NHL as a teenager and to remain with that same organization continuously through his age 35 season. Teammate Nicklas Backstrom became just the 35th player - and only Capital - to achieve the feat last season, his age 35 campaign. (Seven of those 35 players missed an entire season or more for various reasons - health issues or playing in another league - for one or more seasons during their career.)

"Everybody's career is different," said Wilson in a 2022 conversation. "People come in and out at different times. I was fortunate to get in really young and to be able to take it all in. It truly is the best League in the world, so every day you can spend here is a lot of fun. I still feel like I'm the young guy, and the time has definitely flown by. But it's always a privilege to come to the rink and to just keep pushing forward.

"It's just been such a great ride. Early on in your career, it's kind of a whirlwind. You're going into new rinks and new places for the first time and you're just trying to get that jersey every night and stay in the lineup, and then you get more responsibility as the years go on. And obviously 2018 stands out. Growing up as a kid in Canada, that's your dream right there, to win the Stanley Cup. It's one of those things where I've been pretty fortunate to be a part of such a great organization and have the chance to win every year. I think that's an expectation moving forward, is to just continue to demand success and accountability. It's definitely been a winning culture here ever since I've been around.

"I'm just trying to be consistent and to keep that going. Keep hitting goals and keep improving. For me it's about - on the ice and off the ice - continuing to learn and soak it all in. It hasn't changed much from my first year or my first couple of days. You come in here, and there is something new every day. That's what you love about the job, no day is the same and that's what makes it a lot of fun."