Colin Wilson gave himself an ultimatum in the closing portions of last summer.
A handful of years removed from the Nashville Predators trading up to select him seventh overall at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the Boston University product knew his pattern of what he calls “living off of potential” had to come to an end. Wilson showed flashes of being the dominant power-forward the Preds wanted across his 291 games with the club prior to the 2014-15 campaign, but something always seemed just out of reach in the forward’s game. Topping 15 goals once during the five-year span, Wilson entered and exited Nashville’s top-six forward group regularly prior to last season.
In the summer of 2014, with a new head coach in Nashville and a fresh season on the horizon, the 25-year-old set forth to make 2014-15 a career year or bust.
“That was my mindset going into the season, it’s not the development stage anymore, I need to start reaching my potential,” Wilson told NashvillePredators.com via phone. “It was nice to get my first 20-goal season last year, and I certainly want to build upon that with more consistency.
“The way [Preds Head Coach Peter] Laviolette had the D-men playing, and the way we were really pushing toward the other team’s net and not necessarily sitting back like you see some teams do today, it’s just a fun way to play. I had a lot of fun playing out there on the forecheck, pushing our back pressure as quickly as we could and pushing the puck to the net. He was constantly challenging us to be at the net, and that certainly played a role in the season I had last year.”
Laviolette’s up-tempo attacking style combined with Wilson’s “no-excuses” approach produced No. 33’s first 20-goal season and a noticeable difference in his on-ice play. Nearly doubling his goal total from the season prior, Wilson established new career highs in goals and assists, ranked in NHL’s Top 30 in plus/minus (+19) and set a Preds’ franchise record by notching five tallies in a single playoff series. All numbers which indicate the forward’s direct contribution to one of the club’s most successful seasons and led to Wilson and the Predators extending their partnership for at least four more seasons.
“I’m excited about our team, I know every time you see someone sign they’re talking about the team, but I really think our club with that young D corps and a lot of young forwards that are really coming into their own and will only improve, it’s an exciting time in Nashville and I’m happy to be a part of it and a part of the core of it,” Wilson said, a day after inking a four-year, $15.75 million deal with Nashville. “For myself, I want to play that big, power-forward type of game, driving to the net and getting pucks there. That’s the way I want to keep playing.”
In his first season behind Nashville’s bench, Laviolette witnessed Wilson be the offensive driving force the forward had been striving to be for years.
“When Colin is on his game, he’s really difficult to get the puck from,” Laviolette told Preds TV during the 2014-15 season. “He’s a big, strong power-forward, and he has plenty of skill and talent to go with that. When he’s rolling, he’s playing fast, he’s physical, he protects the puck and he can score goals and make plays. He’s had a real strong year for us.”
Now, like his linemate Craig Smith who re-signed with Nashville on July 20, Wilson is looking ahead at what’s to come for a Preds team that brought back the majority of its roster from the 2014-15 campaign. With six weeks to go until Nashville opens training camp, Wilson is comfortable challenging himself with another goal for the coming season, much like he did roughly a year prior.
“There’s going to be pressure on you every year,” Wilson explained. “Last year it was, ‘Am I going to live up to my potential?’ Other years it was ‘Is he going to make the team?’ So every year there’s going to be new challenges and new pressure. I want to be a part of the core and I want to put that confidence and motivation into myself and be consistent. It’s nice to see that Nashville felt the same way and they had that belief in me.”
Wilson says his need to prove, even to himself, that he could make a major difference in the NHL helped him hit a new gear last season. Nashville adding some players with a similar chip on their shoulders for the 2015-16 campaign is a great sign in Wilson’s mind.
“We basically have the same team, plus guys like [Kevin] Fiala is another younger player and we got [Cody] Hodgson who has had 40-plus points in an NHL season and had some big years,” Wilson said. “Then we got a big goal-scorer in [Steve] Moses. I think last year, you saw a lot of players playing well because they all had something to prove. Bringing in these players, it’s another set of people that have something to prove, and I think that’s a winning combination.”