ARLINGTON, Va. -- Prospect Tom Wilson is making his NHL debut for the Washington Capitals Friday in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers (NBCSN, TSN, RDS2).
The Capitals' first-round pick (No. 16) in the 2012 NHL Draft was recalled Thursday from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League and is skating on Washington's fourth line alongside Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle in Game 5.
Wilson becomes the fourth player in franchise history to make his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He is replacing Martin Erat, who sustained an upper-body injury in Game 4.
"I was talking to a couple of the guys, and to be able to play your first NHL game as a playoff game, in Game 5 in such a huge series against such a great hockey club, is pretty special," Wilson said beforehand. "There really aren't any words to describe it. I'm pretty excited."
Wilson, 19, had 23 goals, 58 points and 104 penalty minutes in 48 regular season games with the Plymouth Whalers in the Ontario Hockey League and had nine goals and 17 points in 12 OHL playoff games.
He made his professional debut last Friday in the AHL and had a goal and six penalty minutes in three Calder Cup Playoff games with Hershey.
"I watched the whole series, just sort of as a fan," Wilson said of the Capitals-Rangers first-round series, which is even at two games apiece.
"I was in Hershey and I was watching the games and I've been really excited with how the [Capitals] have been playing, and now I get a chance to be a part of it. Just sitting in my hotel room last night watching the Ottawa-Montreal game, it kind of hit me that I'm going to be in [the Stanley Cup Playoffs]. I'm definitely pretty excited."
Wilson is a 6-foot-4, 210 pound forward who is expected to provide the lineup with a physical presence. He was voted the best body checker in the OHL in a season-ending coaches' poll in each of the past two years.
"Every time there's a chance to hit a guy you should finish him, because in a long series the bumps and the bruises, if you ask any hockey player, they add up," Wilson said. "Guys finish their checks in the playoffs and they play hard. I've played in playoff games before and I love it, and I'm a really competitive kid and just want to win, so I'm going to do everything I can."
Capitals coach Adam Oates said, "We're obviously very confident. The scouts told [general manager] George [McPhee] that they liked what they saw, and they obviously heard nothing but good things. He had a great year. A big, strong kid. He's got a big body for a kid his age, so you know what? He can fit in. It's a rarity, but it happens, and we think it'll go great."
Though it may be rare for a player to make his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Oates referenced Rangers forward Chris Kreider doing so last spring with New York.
Kreider appeared in 18 playoff games with the Rangers last season, recording six goals and eight points.
"He's playing at a high level," Oates said of Wilson. "He played his last junior series at a high level. He played great. He feels good about himself. He's at a good place."
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said, "I'm very happy for him. He's that kind of guy, yesterday I walk into locker room, I saw his face, he was very excited. I'm sure he's going to be little bit nervous tonight, but that's why we have such a good locker room, we're going to help him. I don't think he's going to have some problems to play."
Marcus Johansson – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin
Eric Fehr – Mike Ribeiro – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Mathieu Perreault – Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner – Mike Green
John Erskine – John Carlson
Jack Hillen – Steve Oleksy
Scratched: Joey Crabb, Jeff Schultz, Aaron Volpatti, Wojtek Wolski
Injured: Martin Erat (upper body), Brooks Laich (groin), Tom Poti (back)