The capital forward Tom Wilson has been an important part of the team’s foundation for some time now since being drafted by the organization in 2012 and given his NHL debut shortly after. When he went down with a torn ACL in the Caps’ first-round playoff series against the Florida Panthers last June it was a huge blow to the player and the team.
Wilson was in the midst of the best season of his nine-year career at that point. He recorded a personal-best 52 points (24g, 28a) in 78 games and made his first All-Star Game appearance.
With a return from season surgery to repair a torn ACL looming in the near future, the 28-year-old winger says it is most important for him to pick up right where he left off.
“The last two weeks I’ve been thinking about myself,” Wilson began. “It’s just a matter of time. I’m starting to feel very relaxed, not worried about it and not thinking about it much. It’s good. It’s kind of the last step of the process. Just get back to feeling like yourself and don’t worry about the recovery process.
“We’re going through that last phase,” he continued. “Where I’m happy and I’m not limited in exercise or anything like that. Once I feel really, really good, we’ll be good to go.”
The rugged Toronto native took full contact practice for the first time this season before Christmas and has been consistent in every skate the team has held at the MedStar Capitals Iceplex. Last week, he filled in as an extra forward while running the line with TJ Oshie who was also injured at the time. Oshie has since returned.
That indicates Wilson’s return to action is imminent. The return that Wilson hinted at might have been a little earlier if the team had been more concerned with wins and losses and not a full return to health.
“My hope is that I have to be where I was before,” Wilson said. “That is the only acceptable result. I want to be the actor I used to be. This whole process I’ve had that in mind and that’s my goal. Maybe I could have come back maybe a month ago, but I wouldn’t be the player I want to be. I will never be the player I was last year.
“If you have [team’s season] it’s not going well then there are more conversations but if it’s going well then maybe you buy your teammates who haven’t played in a while,” he continued. “I don’t think that’s too much. The team has been amazing with me. Not so much about what happens in the stands. If they push me and push me back, it will be a month ago, let’s do this. Everyone has been so great about allowing me to be excited about my return and that’s the only focus. “
Wilson spent much of his rehabilitation process alongside another key piece on the Capitals roster in Nicklas Backstrom. Both have, in part out of sheer necessity, been exceptional in the gym, in the locker room when the rest of their teammates are on the road, and most importantly on the ice as they work to get back in shape.
When asked if the two had become best friends, Wilson joked that Backstrom had left Mike Green for him.
“No, I’m just kidding,” Wilson said, fearing the consequences of such words. “If Greenie hears that, he might be upset.”
Wilson then explained the difference in his relationship with Backstrom.
“We’ve always been close and he’s always been a mentor and a leader to me,” Wilson said. “We definitely spend a lot of time together. There are not many people every day I come to the rink where I have to be good and I have to push myself because I feel like I owe that to him as a captain. He just has that attitude about him. Everyone around you wants to be better. It’s great to bounce conversations off each other. Ups, downs, everything. We wish both of them weren’t in that situation, but I’m lucky to have him there.”
Backstrom spoke to the media on Wednesday. He also mentioned that having a training partner for his rehabilitation process is a major positive.
“That helps a lot,” Backstrom said. “We knew from the beginning that we were going to go [come back] around the same time. Having him around and working together, skating together, it’s been great, really. He is also eager to return there. We both benefit from working together.”
The dynamic duo will not be on the Capitals’ upcoming road trip to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets. Head coach Peter Laviolette explained that news after Thursday’s practice while also adding that the two forwards are “close”. The first time the Caps can get their star forward after that will come Friday when they host the Nashville Predators at Capital One Arena.
With the team making both of their conference-style appearances available to the wider media for the first time in good time on Wednesday, those returns could very well be nearing.
Screenshot via @Capitals/Twitter