By Matt Mackinder -
PITTSBURGH - Tom Wilson is as humble a hockey player as one would ever find.
Get him on the ice and he’s one of the toughest and grittiest players around, but with an offensive touch that some feel will be NHL-ready in a few short years.
Put all that together and it all amounts to a first-round draft pick.
The Washington Capitals grabbed Wilson, a forward for the Plymouth Whalers, with the 16th overall selection at the 50th edition of the NHL draft on June22 inPittsburgh.
Ask Wilson how it feels to be a first-round pick and he’s almost shy.
“I’m thrilled,” said Wilson, who was originally Plymouth’s second-round pick in the 2010 Ontario Hockey League draft. “I’ve never been to Washington, but I’ve heard it’s a great city, so I’m really looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to going to (training) camp and getting to know the organization.
“I actually met (the Capitals’ staff) down here right before the draft and (after I was drafted) we were joking around that it was worth the extra meeting. It was good to meet the guys and also at the combine, but nothing is for sure on draft day.”
Wilson was asked shortly after putting on the Washington jersey for the first time what the first thing that comes to mind when he thinks of the Capitals.
“(Alex) Ovechkin, maybe?” quipped Wilson. “He’s a great player, fun to watch and I had his jersey when I was growing up. I think it’ll be really cool to meet him when or if I do, so that’s pretty exciting to play with guys like that.”
Wilson, an 18-year-old Toronto native who some draft pundits tabbed as the draft’s toughest and nastiest player to play against, joins Tyler Seguin (Boston, 2010), Stefan Noesen (Ottawa, 2011) and Rickard Rakell (Anaheim, 2011) as recent first-rounders from the Whalers.
“Plymouth is an amazing organization and they really turn out pros,” Wilson said. “They’ve had a lot of first-round picks and Mike Vellucci is a great coach and brings out the best in his players. I love it there and have nothing but good stuff to say about Plymouth. I’m really happy where I’m at.”
While his offensive numbers (nine goals, 28 points a year ago) don’t rival any top-scoring threat, his 141 penalty minutes were certainly noticed last season and then his point-per-game clip in the OHL playoffs showed his promise.
“I’m a power forward who creates space for my linemates,” said Wilson. “I like the physical play and don’t shy away from it and I also think I’ve got some offensive potential that should come along the next few years. One thing Vellucci stresses is playing in your own end first and then going down the ice, so I think I can be a power forward and also a shutdown-type forward.
“I grew a lot right before my minor midget year and I still think I’ve got some filling out to do. If I’m done growing, that’s great, but I think it’s important to put on the right type of muscle the right way. I’m 6-foot-3 ½ and205 poundsright now and I think 215, maybe a little heavier, would be a good playing weight, but we’ll see over the next few years.”
In a defense-heavy draft, Wilson actually thought he might get nudged out of the first round altogether. Fellow forward Filip Forsberg was Washington’s other first-round pick, going 11th overall.
“There are a lot of talented defensemen and you can’t hide that,” explained Wilson. “They’re all great players and they’re all hard to hit when I play against them. It’s kind of a cool draft that so many defensemen were taken, but I’m definitely happy to be one of the forwards taken.”
While there is a chance Wilson could start next season in Washington, he’ll do all he can to stay in the nation’s capital.
“I’m a really competitive kid and like to work hard, so I’m going to make (Washington’s) job hard to turn me away,” boasted Wilson. “Obviously, I’ll still respect them a lot if they put me back in Plymouth, which is a great organization as well.
“I’m just looking forward to getting started.”
Heard, Payne also drafted
Two other Plymouth forwards – Mitchell Heard and Cody Payne – were taken in Pittsburgh with Heard going in the second round (41st overall) to Colorado and Payne getting chosen by Boston in the fifth round (145th overall).
Heard was passed over the past two drafts and as a 20-year-old, may be back with the Whalers next season as an overage player. He went to camp with Toronto as a free agent last fall, but the Maple Leafs didn’t offer a contract.
“Thanks to the best family ever for pushing me to be the best I can be. Love all my friends and family. Happiest day of my life,” tweeted Heard, who popped 29 goals last year, after being drafted.
Payne was at home in Florida when he heard he was drafted by the Bruins and said he was “overwhelmed” by the selection.
“It’s a big relief and an unbelievable feeling,” Payne said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Payne was acquired from Oshawa early last season and played a pivotal role for the Whalers as a checking, gritty forward.