Photo credit: Mike Hensen
After a thrilling third period comeback against the London Knights, the Plymouth Whalers wilted in overtime to Dale Hunter’s crew, 5-4. The game five loss in the OHL’s Western Conference Finals ended Plymouth’s season. The good news for Caps fans is that because of the Whalers early exit, 2012 first-round pick Tom Wilson will be able to make his debut in the Capitals organization imminently.
Way back on March 29th when Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee addressed the media in a 40-minute long fireside chat, he was asked bluntly if he’d like Wilson join the Bears after his season ended in Plymouth. McPhee reponded,”Mm-hmm. Yeah.”
“To bring the kid straight to the NHL — maybe he’s ready for the NHL — but I’d rather him start in Hershey and see how it goes,” McPhee explained. “If he’s good enough to play here, you can make a change. It helps everyone to spend a little time in the minors.”
A few minutes after Plymouth’s loss Friday, the voice of the Bears, Scott Stuccio, confirmed what McPhee said, expecting Wilson to join Hershey in their playoff series against the Providence Bruins.
— Scott Stuccio (@ScottStuccio) April 27, 2013
Now that we know where Wilson will play for the rest of this season, the question then becomes, where will Wilson play next year? And that answer is slightly more complicated.
The first thing we know is that Wilson won’t be eligible to start the season in Hershey, even though he will join them in the playoffs this year. It’s because of something called the CHL-AHL agreement. Players under 20-years-old are only eligible to play in the AHL after their season in the CHL is over each year.
Specifically, the rule says that if a player played in junior before they were drafted by the NHL, then they have to either be 20 years old by Dec. 31 OR have played four years of junior in order to play in the minors. That second condition rarely comes into effect. It would only apply to players who began in the CHL at age 15.
Since Wilson will turn 20 in March of 2014, he only has two options next season: he can make the Washington Capitals out of training camp, or he will be returned back for one final season in the OHL.
When McPhee was asked in March if he thought Wilson could impress him enough in camp to play in the NHL next year, he stated that it was a possibility. After pointing out several Capitals players who made the jump to the NHL only a year after they got drafted like Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Alex Ovechkin, and John Carlson, McPhee said that for him, the player’s ability –not his age — is what forces his hand.
“As I’ve often said, they make the decision for us,” McPhee said. “If somebody’s ready, we’ll play them. It never hurts them to play a little bit longer at the amateur level. It can hurt them if you play them too early at [the NHL] level.”
If Wilson does begin the season in Washington, he’s allowed to play nine games with the team that year (including the playoffs) before a year of his entry-level contract is burned off.
Regardless of where Wilson ends up, McPhee is excited about him, especially after Wilson score nine goals and 17 points in 12 playoff games.
“He’s going to be a fun player to watch,” the excitable GM in his own right said. “He’s a real competitive kid. Real physical. He’s really improved. He’s done a lot of penalty killing this year. He’s on the power play. And what’s going to make him a real good player is the way he works. He really works hard all night long.”
What another amazing season in the books with such a great group of guys. The past 3 years with @pwhalers family has just flown by!
— Tom Wilson (@tom_wilso) April 27, 2013
Additional reporting by Fedor Fedin.