Is Tom Wilson a Power Forward or a Sideshow? (Video)

rmnb video

Tom Wilson has 3 fights in his first 9 games and little else. Is he going to become a bona fide NHL player or not? If so, what is holding him back?

My impression so far is that Tom Wilson’s job is to play a few minutes a night and maybe get into a fight. That might make him a fan-favorite, but I want to find out if he’s capable of more.

Let’s talk about Wilson, the efficacy of fighting, and what we expect from big, physical rookies. Plus: a bulldog cameo and the time I got in a fight over a candy cane.

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  • Matt Lauer

    I do remember moments where momentum changed because of fights, it does have its occasional purpose. I would like to see them put Wilson on the first line instead of MoJo for a game and see what comes of it. Georgia rocks.

  • Capitals103

    Fightin is a key aspect needed in todays game. ersk and olesky seem to be holding back on fighting so someone needed to step up. Wilson is trying to make any impact that he can since he doesn’t get much ice time. Power Forwards do exist. Look at players like jarome ignila

  • Marky Narc

    Park him right in front of the crease on the PP. See if he can score some Dino-style goals.

  • GetchaGrubbOn

    He’s also been outright robbed two or three times right in front of the crease this year. It’s only a matter of time before he pots a couple. But they have to give him a chance to do it. Right now there seems to be no interest in developing his role out there.

  • Wilson played very well in the preseason and definitely earned — at the very least — a spot on the team for the first 9 games. When it became evident that Wilson wasn’t going to play much due to how much forward depth the team has, it seemed silly to me to scrap a year of his entry level deal AND keep him from playing big minutes in junior where he’d continue to hone in on his scoring ability. That’s what we want him to turn into right? A power forward?

    His fights so far have been largely meaningless. We don’t need him fighting other team’s scrub enforcers. That accomplishes nothing except takes him off the ice for five more minutes and opens him up for possible injury.

    I agree with you Peter. I want to see Tom get some chances, even if they are few and far between. Put him up front on the power play. Give him an odd rush on the second or third lines every now and then. The fighting role he’s fulfilling now is best left for guys like Erskine or Oleksy.

  • Clint Petty

    I’m not ready to sell Wilson yet, too early to tell anything as Peter mentioned. I want to see him use his size against some of the tougher (physicality-wise) opponents such as the Bruins, Kings, etc. He has definitely taken over the lead role as fighter/enforcer from guys like Hendricks and Erskine. (Side note: I know Ersk has been injured a bit, but has he been in a fight yet this season?) I do think this is really the only dimension of his game that he has been allowed to demonstrate.

    It seems that Oates new line combos have been working so far but i’d like to see Wilson maybe on the 3rd line with Grabo and Ward and see if he can build some chemistry there with guys who can score and make plays. Playing along Volpatti and Beagle on the 4th line does not give him any opportunity to do anything but hit and fight.



  • Clint Petty

    Milan Lucic is probably the closest thing to a real PF in the NHL

  • Alex Ovechkin says what

  • Spot on. Even if he only gets the same amount of ice, Wilson will eventually get on the scoreboard just doing what he’s doing.

  • I’d love to see how he could fit in on a 2nd PP unit.

  • Super43

    The only fight I thought was ok, was the Calgary game after Hillen was yet again taken out for the year, on an albeit, clean hit. I really didn’t think we were going to burn a year of his ELC, especially when, at the time, it seemed there was no room for Eart and his 4 million dollar salary cap hit in the top 6. As of right now, I think Tommy boy sees fighting as his only outlet to “showcase” his abilities given he is not getting any ice time. With that being said, I think it would be a huge waste of his talent to reduce his responsibilities to being a 4th line goon.

  • Steve Hickey

    According to Peter this is a myth

  • Clint Petty

    Lucic crashes the net more and is generally more of a thug than Ovi. I feel like those are key components of a PF, although I guess that’s open to interpretation.

    However, OVI > Loocheech

    Always and Forever <3

  • Ha, not according to me!

    For the record, I can also remember times when I think a fight changed momentum, but…

    a) memories aren’t reliable
    b) there are many more times it didn’t
    c) post hoc egro propter hoc fallacy

  • Not really Peter as so much the awesome fancystats community that has been researching it for the last few years. Some fights might give some type of momentum, but over the long haul there’s proven to be zero correlation. I was a huge believer in hockey fight momentum, but I’ve changed my thinking. It really is more of a sideshow: one I thoroughly enjoy, but am enjoying less and less with more research into brain trauma and CTE. It’s a perfect example of ignorance is bliss.

  • Depends on how you define the threshold for power forward. If it’s hits and goals per game, Ovi is one of the only reliable power forwards in the game, and Looch is not.

    This link is helpful:

  • Steve Hickey

    I often wonder why stats guys like yourself bother to watch the games….. I mean, everything you need to know can be gained from looking at the scoresheet the next morning right? hockey is a beautiful game and not every moment or play can be quantified in a black and white stat.

  • Matt Lauer

    I actually agree with you on the brain scan stuff. I think I sort of equated hockey fighting with childish roughhousing when I was in middle school, but now that I’m an adult I can clearly see they’re really swinging at each other — the problem is that I still have some remnants on the middle school mentality in me. At any rate, I think the real problem with hockey fighting is that too many people come to hockey games simply to see a fight, and the people on the biz end of things know that. As long as fights = tickets, it will probably stick around.

  • I love fighting, I watch MMA, hockey, and wrestling. Football too. You see guys after fights or games, they are okay. You don’t see them afterwards at home, nursing injuries, nursing multiple concussions. All of that is hidden from us to show how tough these guys are.

    CTE is real, brain injury is real. The more research that comes out, the more educated the general public will be on it. I’m not sure fighting will ever leave the NHL, but I can say this: I’ve re-evaluated my opinion and educated myself since the three unfortunate enforcers who died a few years ago.

    Everyone should watch this if they haven’t already:

  • Chris

    What good does putting Tom Wilson back down in the OHL serve? Just because he’s not scoring goals at the NHL level, doesn’t mean he isn’t improving as a player during practice and his limited ice time. He’s getting to work with Adam Oates and his coaching staff as a young 19 year old.

    It would be similar to having your child the opportunity to skip a grade level or two because he academically is above and beyond his peers, but instead decide to keep him with his peers because once he advances to the higher grade level he may no longer be the top in his class, but instead at the bottom of the class even though he is still being challenged academically. Wilson doesn’t belong in the OHL.

    Power forwards do exist in the NHL. Those are the guys that look for contact, finish checks, don’t shy away from fights and are also skilled enough to score goals and assists. I can think of a handful of guys that fit the bill the past few seasons: Scott Hartnell, Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic, David Backes, Ryan Clowe, Nathan Horton (a little soft in the head now), Jamie Benn, David Clarkson, Corey Perry, Brenden Morrow.

    These guys are doing what Brendan Shanahan, Keith Tkachuk, Cam Neely, Eric Lindros, Rick Tocchet. Wendel Clark, etc did years ago.

    Fighting in hockey is not always about leading to wins.

    “”An NHLPA/CBC poll conducted in 2011-12 found that 98 percent of players were against banishing fighting. “That’s where fighting comes in, where you want to stick up for your teammates and you want to have tough guys who protect you so you’re not getting run out of the building every night,” Hawks star Patrick Kane said. “If you take it completely out of the game, and they don’t have to
    think twice about hitting skilled guys because they know they won’t have to fight someone, there’s no [price] for a cheap hit.”” — See Wilson, Tom sticking up for Jack Hillen.

    The NHL has continued to try and police the players themselves, handing out fines, dolling out suspensions for illegal hits and it isn’t working. Let the players handle it, like it has always been.

    Back to fighting and winning. It seems to be about a 50-50 split. Obviously once you reach the playoffs the fights are almost nonexistent.

    In the 2008-2009 season 8 of the 16 teams to reach the playoffs were in the top half in fighting majors. Pittsburgh won the cup ranked 23rd.
    In the 2009-2010 season 7 of the 16 teams to reach the playoffs were in the top half in fighting majors. Chicago won the cup ranked 21st.
    In the 2010-2011 season 7 of the 16 teams to reach the playoffs were in the top half in fighting majors. Boston won the cup ranked 2nd.
    In the 2011-2012 season 8 of the 16 teams to reach the playoffs were in the top half in fighting majors. Los Angeles won the cup ranked 18th.
    In the 2012-2013 season 9 of the 16 teams to reach the playoffs were in
    the top half in fighting majors. Chicago won the cup ranked 25th.

  • Yeah, I don’t think every moment can be quantified either, and I get a lot of joy out of the qualities of the game– I think my recaps are evidence of that.

    But I’m a critical thinking, analytical dude who is curious about the world. I’m aware that as a human I have biases that can color my judgment. Stats are a way of balancing my qualitative thoughts with quantitative assessment. I think it helps us advance the conversation– not stifle it.

  • Chris

    Alex Ovechkin is NOT a power forward. He’s a powerful forward. There’s a huge difference. He won’t drop his gloves to fight for a teammate or in retaliation because of something he has done.

  • Chris

    I think Joel Ward has that spot pretty much secured. Probably would have to see him and Laich get injured or play really bad for him to move up.

  • Steve Hickey

    Regardless, I love your dog and I love the Caps.

  • Lawrence

    Hey Peter, long time lurker (I’m ashamed), love your site, read it after every game! Great video as well 🙂 I understand what your saying about fighting and I think Oates would agree with you, but I think its more of a case that Wilson himself is deciding to fight (maybe to show he belongs, in his mind), than management telling him to fight. Sure they could tell him to stop fighting and maybe they should, but I feel like me talking about fighting isn’t really worth it, as I don’t have a strong opinion on it either way.

    The main issue with Wilson right now is, like you said, the lack of ice time. The question is, is there any room for him in the top 6? We have seen some ego issues on this team already and I get the feeling that if the same thing that happened to Erat, were to happen to Brouwer, Johansson, Laich, they might respond much worse then Erat did (and maybe the others on the 3rd/4th line that would be overlooked). I understand that this is what happens in sports, people get moved up and down the roster all the time, but on a team like the Capitals, where winning “now” is pressuring Oates and Mcphee, its probably very hard for them to risk moving Wilson up and causing tension in the locker-room (which for some reason I get the feeling that tension is dangling along a slim line in there). Again, I could have the wrong opinion of Oates, but in my mind for Oates to move Wilson up to a top 6, a few things would have to happen, injuries, loss streak, etc. I personally would love to see Wilson up on the 2nd line, but I just don’t think it’s gonna happen for a while.

    It’s unfortunate that he couldn’t go to the AHL this year, because I feel like that would have been the best overall option for him. It was somewhat of a selfish decision my Mcphee and Oates to keep Wilson on the roster in my opinion.

  • My friend Ivan wrote this piece a few years ago about why he stopped watching MMA and WWE and stuff:

    Totally worth the read.

  • brian!

    I agree with all points. The problem is his age. If he were 20 (right?) we could camp him in the AHL for a while and let him hone his ability against tougher opponents, which I think would be ideal (and an absolute blast to watch!). I agree with the consensus management came to, saying that he might develop bad habits in the OHL (I have no data to support this). So I guess it came down to bad habits in junior vs. stunted growth in the NHL. Another thought: isn’t a logjam at forward a good thing? There are teams out there who would kill for our depth.

  • Word, the difference is just in how we choose to define our terms. I totally accept that your power forward is different from mine.

  • The ‘bad habits’ argument is a little odd to me, but McPhee and Oates are long-time hockey people, and I believe them at face value. I think the thing that helps Wilson avoid taking a backwards step in his development now is his size and skating ability. Adjusting to bigger players, shouldn’t be that difficult for him. His problem will be learning how to score with less space and time. Scoring 35 goals at juniors with a ton of space and time, may not actually help him, but maybe it would too.

    If he were less swift of foot, I would be totally concerned by the decision to keep him up here all year, because usually bigger prospects take longer to develop. But I have faith in the guy. He works his ass off and is very smart. And even though he’s not getting much of an opportunity yet, you can see that his forechecking and positioning has already improved in the first few weeks.

  • First, thanks for commenting!

    “I think its more of a case that Wilson himself is deciding to fight (maybe to show he belongs, in his mind), than management telling him to fight.”

    Great point. It’s like internalized market forces: Wilson thinks that would be a way to build value for himself. Even if it’s objectively untrue, we know GMGM values fighting (e.g. DJ King). He doesn’t have to be given orders to fight– I bet few players do in the modern NHL– but the desperate fear of being sent back to the OHL and the impression that fights are valuable spurred him along.

    Thanks again.

  • Chris

    Nothing wrong with that. I split the two groups up because you have guys like Howe, Messier, Ovechkin, Toews, Nash, Getzlaf and Malkin who were/are big, strong players that rarely if ever were in a fight/scrum. I can’t put them in the same class as guys like Shanahan, Iginla, Neely or Tkachuck.

    It would be similar (for me) if you had a player like Matt Hendricks with the skill, grit and physicality to be a power forward, but lacked the overall size. Can he still be classified as one?

  • What if the bad habits were just like spitting sunflower seeds and leaving the toilet seat up?

  • Adam Stringham

    I’m concerned that the way they are utilizing Wilson will make him a career goon. Wilson is doing exactly what is asked of him, but in my opinion it is at the cost of his future development. I agree that Wilson should get some time in the top 6. Wilson reminds me a lot of viktor kozlov, or kozlov when he was playing well.

  • Adam Stringham

    Are there advanced statistics about the effects of Unleash the fury?

  • Mike Reppenhagen

    I find it a little interesting that you sign off with “crash the net” on this site but aren’t sure if Power Forwards are a real thing.

    As others have said, if Wilson is going to be a real one, he needs time on the ice to get in front of the goalies and frustrate them with that big frame instead of just using it to fight. I think it’s his way of establishing value, simply because when you’re getting less than 10 minutes of ice time on a team that hasn’t been shooting the puck a ton, there’s not another way of establishing that.

    Put him on the ice on the powerplay and make him stand in front of a few big slappers the way Knoobs did. That’s the only way we’re going to see how good of a power forward this kid is.

  • Graham Dumas

    Step 1) remove fighting from NHL hockey
    Step 2) ?
    Step 3) Socialism.

    If by socialism you mean a much better game of hockey. Which is really the same thing.

    Tom Wilson: not a goon. Yet. Please, please, please get that man some ice time! Bench Wardo or, better yet, Chimmer, and tell him it’s not personal!

  • Jared

    Would be nice to see him take some shifts on 3L with Grabo. Grabo set him up for a couple of killer goals in the pre-season.

  • Michael Reschly

    We gave up MP85 for a guy who __________ .

    TW43 should be deployed in a manner such that the above sentence makes sense. “Spends 5 minutes in the box every third game” does not make sense.


  • KG

    It’d be interesting to know how often a coach will tell a player to go out there and start a fight. Seems like Oates would not be the type to do that as he doesn’t even prefer to use a true “Checking” line. Seems to me it’s more of Wilson trying to prove his toughness to his teammates, coaches, front office, rest of the league, etc., as he drops the gloves on his own. I don’t think GMGM would prefer his top 1 or 2 prospect to risk himself in a fight per week. Interestingly enough, thought that was supposed to be Volpatti’s job and we’ve yet to see it from him. (Side note: why resign Volpatti midseason and not Hendricks last year?? Grrrr)

    Also, remember back in 24/7, HBO caught Boudreau telling Matty H that he doesn’t need to fight every night? If Boudreau, who seems to be wayyyy more old school in his approach than Oates, is telling his scrappiest player to tone back the fighting, don’t you think Oates would preach the same thing to the brightest prospect he has at his current disposal???

    As for ice time, I just don’t seem an opportunity for him. Unless you mix the lines up mid game, can’t see him jumping any of the wingers above him on the depth chart at the current moment. Don’t forget that includes Fehr.

  • The problem with “power forward” is the lack of any objective definition. Knuble crashed the net like crazy, but he wasn’t a power forward by anyone’s measure, right?

  • hahahaha

  • working on it for 3 years now, I got nothing.

  • Mike Reppenhagen

    I’d call him a power forward for the same reason I wouldn’t Ovi one (though that’s an interesting theory.) To me, it’s a guy who uses his body, positioning and size to make plays instead of his skates or stick. Doesn’t have to mean a fighter and doesn’t necessarily mean a big checker, just a guy who plays physically. I think it kind of melds with the idea of a grinder for most people, which gives credence to your point of it lacking a definition.


    Great article, Peter. But for crying out loud can you hire a librarian or something?

  • 5manfront

    I agree with your definition in that a power forward uses his size/strength and positioning to make plays. I do NOT feel that a power forward has to play physically in that he throws big hits. I think there is actually a spectrum of power forward.

    On one end of the spectrum you have the big-bodied players that use size and positioning, but are not going to be dropping the gloves or laying folks out. Think Viktor Kozlov or Dainius Zubrus or Patrik Berglund. On the other end are guys that throw the big hits, fight, and crash the net. They play a physical game… but they also use their big size to protect the puck, and use their strength to get by guys. Think Cam Neely, Milan Lucic, or Byflugien when he was in Chicago.

    I would classify Knuble as as power forward, you could also say the same of some of the “smaller” (i.e. 6′, 205lbs guys) guys like Brendan Morrow or Jarome Iginla. They aren’t going to make defenders look silly with sick dangles or fancy skating. They are going to lower their shoulder, lean in and drive the net, and use “power” to accomplish their goal.

  • Oh, total nerd diss to The HASS

  • SamWow Carroll

    First off Peter, love this videos. Good stuff.

    I don’t want to watch Goon Wilson skate around for 6 minutes, take MoJo off the top line a few times in practice, start working Tommy into the game and hopefully we can see him play a Knuble like role before too long.

    Hopefully that made sense, my brain is mush.


    what is wrong with my bookshelf?!?!

  • 5manfront

    Calling Wilson a “sideshow” or a “goon” after 9 games and only 3 fights is LUDICROUS! A “goon” is someone who does practically nothing other than rile up the other team with dirty play and eventually fights the other team’s goon. He might throw an occasionally “woo” hit, and he might pot the rare goal, but he really only has one job on the team and that is to fight. Kevin Kaminski, god love him, was a goon. Jody Shelley was a goon. Tie Domi, McSorely, Dave Brown, the Hanson Brothers… goons.

    Wilson hits. He forechecks well. He has gotten a few chances on goal, but hasn’t gotten any puck luck. He played in the U17 Worlds, and was named to the CHL Top Prospect team. He’s got potential. Yes he might benefit from 2nd line ice time and some 2ndPP time… or he may benefit from a lack of pressure, and the instruction to play a simple, but aggressive game on the 4th line where he isn’t expected to score a lot. None of us know, especially this early on.

    Have some patience. Some of the comments and articles here about how we’re “ruining” him, or we’re turning him into a goon, or how he’s a sideshow freak… my god, put down your pitchforks people. Step back from the ledge.

    Can we give him at least half a season before we declare him just a sideshow goon that might have been great if the Caps had’t ruined his development?

  • Priscilla Villanueva

    that’d be awesome. who knew the NHL was such a charm school.

  • Chris Cerullo

    For some reason I believe there is a plan in place for big Tom. I don’t think they plan on using him 7 minutes a night on the 4th line forever. I also have a theory that he is definitely bound for the AHL next season and the only reason he’s in the NHL this year is to keep him from going back to Plymouth. I believe we actually did this with Boyd Gordon in 2003. However, I was like 7-8 years old so what do I know haha.

  • Priscilla Villanueva

    Candy cane. HA!

  • KareeLyn

    To answer the most important question posed in the video…. VERY. Georgia is very cute.

  • Priscilla Villanueva

    I don’t really like Lebron James, but I can’t help but think of Lebron when I think of Tom Wilson. Totally different sport obviously, but some of the same attributes – physical strength and size at a young age, the ability to move in a way that most men their size, even athletes, can’t move. And that attribute (the movement and skill with size) is what the Caps should be focusing on developing around. It’s what separates him from other prospects. So maybe that’s the idea? But no – the fighting does not make sense for that kind of development.

  • Nick Frye

    mTBI is bad. Very, very, very bad. My wife went through a two year hellish nightmare with mTBI and still hasn’t fully recovered. Thank you Ian for researching and bringing awareness to the awfulness that is brain injury.

  • Brandon Steele

    fighting is equivalent to icing the kicker sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. But I do like me some fights!

  • To take up your analogy, it’s more like letting both teams ice one another’s kickers. In a fight, each team has a chance to win– and each team has a chance to sustain an injury.

    Because there’s no correlation between fighting– or winning fights– and improved performance afterwards, I gotta say the icing the kicker analogy is a little generous. Just because we can remember a time a team won AFTER a fight doesn’t mean there’s any connection between fighting and winning. Indeed, after looking at how it’s shaken out, the most supportable thing to say is that there IS no connection.

  • Ben Reed

    Wilson as goon (at this point) is not Wilson’s fault – it’s Oates’ and GMGM’s. I doubt, however, this is the long-term plan, even for this season. 82 games are a lot. He will get his TOI.

  • Justin Collins

    I don’t think Wilson is a goon, I don’t think that’s all he’s going to become, and I really hope it’s not all he’s going to become. There are times where I think fighting is necessary and appropriate, like after the Hillen injury. Good for Tom. Sticking up for your team is a good thing, it seems like you see it more in football now too. Obviously not to the point it is in hockey, but as player safety as emphasized more and more, I notice a lot more players going after guys after they take a cheap shot or make a dirty hit. I think having guys out there just to fight is stupid though, and as you said the statistics don’t show that it helps in any way. I think Wilson has a lot of potential, and I hope he develops in to a good player who also happens to be someone very capable of sticking up for their team when needed.

  • Barrett

    Considering the term “power forward” in hockey was first used to describe Cam Neely, that should be a good starting point on the definition of the position. Neely had 79 fights, over 1200 PIM, 395 goals and 299 assists in his career.

  • William

    I’ll be honest, I’ve been a lot more impressed watching Filip Forsberg with nashville this year than Tom Wilson. Still I hope we can utilize wWlson’s skillset in situations where he can make more of a difference.

  • Pat

    I don’t think they are even comparable. Wilson has size but thats when the comparisons end. Lebron is one of the best athletes on the planet.


    Those books look like an Englishman’s teeth.

  • Priscilla Villanueva

    disagree. he moves well for a guy his size and age. and then that’s where the comparisons end.

  • Priscilla Villanueva

    I think it’s someone who can stay on their skates in traffic and finish. someone who can shake defenders.

  • Pat

    Honestly, Wilson is a pretty average skater. He’s big and physical and has decent offensive instincts.

    My point is that, lebron is ELITE at everything. For the NHL to have a player as dominate as Lebron he would literately have the offense of Crosby, defensive of Bergeron, Skating of Skinner and physicality of Lucic.

    Wilson is a good prospect, but you cant really compare him to (arguably) the best basketball player of all time

  • capsyoungguns

    “Stats are a way of balancing my qualitative thoughts with quantitative assessment.”

    Nicely said. This is precisely what I appreciate about stats. Hockey is not only a beautiful game but also an emotional one. Rational thought and emotional reactions are often at odds during a game. (Or anytime really). Stats are a great way to cut through the emotion and perceptions we form as we watch the game.

  • kyle boyd

    i agree with everything here, and the video was very entertaining to boot! i really did agree with oates when he said he thought anoher year of juniors would be detrimental to him. being a caps fan who works out of toronto and ottawa i went to as many plymouth games as i could (think i saw 3 last season) and its easy to see it wasnt the place for him to develop. but as you said, he hasn’t been given a chance (which i think he earned this off-season) up in Washington. the career high he had last night is a start but id hope by midway through the season hes averaging 13-15 minutes a night and getting some time on the PP.

  • Priscilla Villanueva

    I definitely see your point, but I think you’re missing mine. The essential comparison point for me is the age. The size, with physicality and movement at age 19 is where I see the comparison. I definitely don’t see the comparison in the skill level relative to their sports. But the main point is not about LeBron really – so much as I don’t think Tom Wilson is getting enough of an opportunity to keep his development ahead of the age curve.