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Big contract shows Capitals' confidence in Wilson

| Monday, July 30, 2018, 7:21 p.m.
chaz palla | tribune-review The Capitals’ Tom Wilson celebrates a goal against the Penguins during their Stanley Cup playoff series in the spring.
chaz palla | tribune-review The Capitals’ Tom Wilson celebrates a goal against the Penguins during their Stanley Cup playoff series in the spring.

Tom Wilson does not want to boast he is now a big part of the Washington Capitals’ core.

His new contract does that for him.

When the Capitals signed the physical, top-line right winger to a $31 million, six-year contract, it was their biggest statement yet about how they see Wilson. The long-term commitment to the 24-year-old is a big-money investment in a homegrown player who played a significant role in Washington winning the Stanley Cup and could be a future captain once Alex Ovechkin is gone.

“I’ve taken more on my plate every year, and with this deal that’s going to continue to be expected,” Wilson said Monday. “The development, they’ve watched me grow as a player and my role on the team. I think from their side, they’re confident that I’m going to continue to grow as a player.”

Wilson making an average of $5.17 million a year puts him the same range as Minnesota’s Jason Zucker, Tampa Bay’s J.T. Miller and Calgary’s Elias Lindholm, who all signed this offseason and have at least 60 more points in their NHL careers. None have Wilson’s mix of size, hitting ability or penalty-killing prowess, but Washington also is paying for his intangible value in the locker room fresh off its first championship.

“Tom is a unique player in this league in that he plays a physical game, leads by example and contributes in every facet of the game,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He is just entering his prime, and we believe that he will only continue to excel and improve as a player.”

Wilson doubled his career high with 14 goals and set a new mark with 35 points last season as he was elevated to the top line to play with Ovechkin and either Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom. His 15 points in 21 games during the Capitals’ Cup run is a level of production more in line with what he will be expected to put up over the next several seasons.

“Each year, I’m going to have to continue to perform,” Wilson said. “The NHL is about consistency. Guys will tell you there’s pressure on you as a player. You’re expected to get the job done every single night, and for me it’s just going to be about being consistent and helping the team win.”

The Capitals didn’t have to give a long contract to Wilson, a restricted free agent who didn’t elect salary arbitration. But the organization has been Wilson’s biggest supporter since 2012 when it took him in the first round, 16th overall, and then-GM George McPhee compared him to Milan Lucic.

Now only Kuznetsov, winger T.J. Oshie and defenseman John Carlson are signed for longer, and Wilson is a strong candidate to be a future face of the franchise.

This move is also a vote of confidence that Wilson will be able to rein in some of the play that has gotten him in trouble. He was suspended twice from preseason incidents and once in the playoffs last year. He also was the only forward with 30-plus points and 90-plus penalty minutes, finishing with 187 and a league-high 41 minors.

Wilson said he sees his elevated role as reason enough to tone down some of the borderline hits without giving up his value as a physical player.

“You don’t necessarily make as many big hits if you’re playing 19, 20 minutes,” Wilson said. “That physical part of my game is always going to be there. That’s the nature of who I am. That’s how I play the game. I’m not going to let anyone take that away from me, but I have to be smart about it.”

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