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Wilson needs to adjust style of play, Capitals GM says

Forward who had suspension reduced makes season debut against Wild

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

TORONTO -- Tom Wilson will have to adjust his approach to being physical and hold back on some of the hits he has made in the past if the forward wants to stay on the ice and avoid suspensions in the future, Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said Tuesday.

"There are certain hits that he just has to stop trying," MacLellan said after NHL general managers met here.

Wilson had his 20-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist reduced to 14 games by a neutral arbitrator Tuesday. He scored for Washington in his season debut, a 5-2 win at the Minnesota Wild.

 

[RELATED: Wilson suspension reduced to 14 games, returns to Capitals]

 

MacLellan is happy Wilson is back because the Capitals have missed his energy and presence, but he has spoken to him about what is acceptable in the NHL today and why his brand of physicality has led to him being suspended four times since September 2017, including the last two for illegal checks to the head.

"We've talked about it numerous times over the last few weeks, some hits he's going to have to avoid, they're too risky," MacLellan said. "The way they're evaluating them, it doesn't make much sense if you're a little bit off and you're finishing a check and a guy is in a certain position. He's going to have to avoid some hits and he's going to have to let up on some hits also. You can't have the same force because he hits hard and it looks bad, and sometimes he's going to be evaluated on the force."

Wilson admitted as much before the game in Minnesota, saying he has thought about his style of play during his suspension and that he understands he has to stay under control.

"At the end of the day, missing 15, 16 games, it can't happen," Wilson said. "At the end of the day, it's on me and I have to control that better and make sure I'm out there playing."

Video: Wilson suspended 20 games for an illegal head check

MacLellan, though, said the Capitals need Wilson to be out there playing a physical power forward game for them, which means he's going to have to find the right balance in his style of play immediately.

Wilson (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) is eighth in the NHL in hits (1,144) since 2013-14, his rookie season. He had the fourth-most hits (489) in the previous two seasons. He had NHL career highs last season in goals (14), assists (21), points (35), shots on goal (123) and penalty minutes (187).

He plays on Washington's top line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin.

"He's effective for his linemates, for the team, playing physical," MacLellan said. "He's had, I don't know what it is, 1,100 hits and he's got two head shots suspensions. It's a lot, but he still needs to play physical but he's going to have to pass up a few of the hits.

"I think he's become extremely aware of how they're looking at it."

Wilson's teammates seem to be aware that there might be an adjustment period for him.

"I imagine [it would be] a little uncomfortable if someone came up to me and told me I had to change the way I played," forward T.J. Oshie said. "He's a mature kid. He's a smart kid and I think he'll find other ways to be successful, but we still expect him to be the same physical player. He's a presence on the ice and we can't lose that in these games."

NHL.com correspondent Jessi Pierce contributed to this story.

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