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Tom Wilson Pleased To Make ‘Unbelievable Debut’ In Game 5
The 19-year-old winger became the fourth Capitals player to make his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup Finals and the youngest of the group when he did so on Friday.
BY ZAC BOYER
WASHINGTON – Tom Wilson got the news he had been waiting for Wednesday night when the Washington Capitals’ top prospect was informed he’d be joining the team for its playoff run.
While he was excited, the transaction created a bit of trouble for Wilson’s parents, Kevin and Neville. Wilson’s younger brother, Jamie, had his senior prom scheduled for Friday night, and Neville decided she’d stay home while Kevin and older brother Pete traveled to Washington.
“He’s got an iPhone now so I’m sure he’s going to be following with all the apps and stuff,” Wilson joked Friday morning. “But it’ll be a pretty good night for him too.”
Wilson became the fourth Capitals player to make his debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Friday when he suited up for the team in its 2-1 overtime victory over the New York Rangers in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Trent Whitfield, who went without a point in three playoff games in 2000, was the last Washington player to do so. Chris Felix and Grant Jennings also made their debuts in the postseason, with each making their debuts in 1988.
None were as young as Wilson, the fresh-faced 19-year-old who was a first-round selection by the Capitals in the entry draft in June. Wilson coincidentally replaced the injured Martin Erat, who was acquired in a trade with Nashville on April 3 in which the Capitals surrendered their other first-round pick, Filip Forsberg.
Wilson’s insertion into the lineup was a low-risk, high-reward for Washington. Head coach Adam Oates sought a right-handed shot and a physical presence to occupy the fourth line, and the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Wilson fit the bill.
Aaron Volpatti, who played in 12 of the Capitals’ final 14 regular-season games, spent much of his time on the left wing and was not a fit, while consistent healthy scratch Wojtek Wolski and fellow recall Joey Crabb were passed over.
“Obviously he’s a big body and he really reads the play well,” said Jay Beagle, who centered the Capitals’ fourth line. “Just from playing with him in that one preseason game I guess we had against Reading, it was the only time that we had played together. He reads the play real well and he’s a smart kid. Really picks up stuff quick and likes to keep it simple, relatively simple, and that’s the way me and Matt [Hendricks] like to play, so it should be good. Good fit.”
Wilson, taken 16th overall by the Capitals, returned to Plymouth of the Ontario Hockey League for the second consecutive season. He had 23 goals and 35 assists in 48 games with the Whalers, then helped the team to the Western Conference finals, where he had nine goals and eight assists in 12 playoff games before bowing out to former Capitals head coach Dale Hunter and his London Knights in five games of their best-of-seven series.
The defeat allowed Wilson to join Hershey, the Capitals’ AHL affiliate, last Saturday in time for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against Providence. He had one goal and served six penalty minutes in three games for the Bears before they were eliminated in five games on Wednesday, leading to yet another phone call and promotion for the Ontario native.
“I was just sitting on the bus, pretty down after the loss, and [Hershey general manager] Doug Yingst called me up to the front of the bus and told me that I’d be going [to Washington],” Wilson said. “It’s pretty cool, and I was very excited. It was definitely a long morning driving up with Crabby but it’s good to be back here.”
Wilson received a warm ovation from the crowd when he took his first shift 1:40 into the first period, and he pestered Rangers defenseman John Moore and winger Brian Boyle early in the second period.
All told, he played 6:24 – all at even strength and not in overtime – and took one shot on goal.
“Unbelievable debut,” Wilson said after the game. “I mean, couldn’t have asked for any better. It was a front row seat to an amazing game. The boys did a great job finishing that off.”
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