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Wilson appeals 20-game suspension by NHL

Capitals forward was banned for illegal hit to head in preseason finale

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Tom Wilson has appealed the 20-game suspension he was given by the NHL Department of Player Safety, the NHL Players' Association confirmed Friday.

The Washington Capitals forward had 48 hours after the suspension was announced Wednesday to appeal to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman; the NHLPA said it filed the appeal on Wilson's behalf. No date has been announced for the appeal hearing, and Wilson remains suspended. If Wilson is unsatisfied with Commissioner Bettman's ruling, he can appeal to a neutral arbitrator.

If the suspension is upheld, Wilson would be eligible to return Nov. 21 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Wilson was disciplined for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist during the Capitals' final preseason game Sunday. He sat out the season opener, a 7-0 win against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, and did not play Thursday in a 7-6 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Wilson was permitted to participate in the Stanley Cup banner-raising ceremony held prior to the game against Boston at Capital One Arena. He skated onto the ice in full uniform and stood with his teammates on the blue line.

"When I found out (about the suspension), I texted him right away," Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said Wednesday. "When I saw him here I went and gave him a hug. I said, 'I'm sorry.' It's unfortunate. He wants to be out here with us. ... We're going to miss him a lot out there, but he'll be around."

Wilson set NHL career highs last season with 14 goals, 21 assists and 35 points in 78 games. Washington's first-round pick (No. 16) in the 2012 NHL Draft also established NHL career highs with five goals, 10 assists and 15 points in 21 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help Washington win the Stanley Cup for the first time since entering the NHL in 1974.

Wilson (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) was effective using his size and speed to create room for linemates Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. He signed a six-year, $31 million contract (average annual value of $5.17 million) July 30.

"He's been an important player for us, really been coming into his own on the first line, complements Ovechkin and Kuznetsov especially, so he's very difficult to replace," coach Todd Reirden said. "He adds to our team on the penalty kill and as a physical presence out there. Besides those factors that are difficult to replace is the in-room leadership that he has and kind of the presence he has with our room."

Wilson has been suspended four times in his past 105 games, including the preseason and playoffs.

"I know he's younger, but he's kind of the big brother out there," Oshie said. "He protects guys. I think other teams, when you've got a guy like that -- (Vegas Golden Knights forward Ryan) Reaves is a pretty big heavyweight, for example -- and when you've got a guy like Reaves on the team, guys don't really run around and take advantage of people. ... So, we'll have other guys step up, but Tom's such a big part of our team."

Brett Connolly played with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov against Boston and for some of the game in Pittsburgh. He didn't have a point Wednesday and had an assist Thursday. Connolly had an NHL career-high 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) last season, playing mostly on the third line.

"It's going to be a group effort," Reirden said Thursday. "It's something we went through in the playoffs last year and I think that's kind of how we're approaching it is who's going to take advantage of this situation, and I thought last night we did a great job of having some different guys step up."

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