Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is forward Tom Wilson, ranked as the 15th best North American skater in the final CSS rankings. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab.
Despite failing to reach the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, the 2011-12 campaign did provide a record-setting moment for one New York Islander. Third-year forward Matt Martin’s 374 hits not only bested Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown’s 293 for tops in the NHL, it also eclipsed Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck’s previous NHL high-water mark of 356, set back in the 2008-09 season. Yet, there were many-a-night in which the Windsor, Ontario native was left alone on a proverbial island, forced to fend for himself against an opponent’s enforcer or two.
Stressing a dire need to add necessary bulk to its hockey club, the Islanders organization spent three of its first four selections in last year’s NHL Entry Draft on skillful teens with size – 6-foot-4, 205-pound defenseman Scott Mayfield, picked in the second round (34th overall), followed by 6-foot-3, 205-pound forward Johan Sundstrom, also chosen in the second round (50th overall) , concluding with 6-foot-4, 201-pound defenseman Andrey Pedan, chosen in the third round (63rd overall).
With an eye towards this June’s NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh, the Islanders organization – selecting fourth overall – will have its choice of either adding another top-six forward to its stable of raw, yet highly-touted core of forwards – Leksands IF (SWE) winger Filip Forsberg, Quebec (QMJHL) center Mikhail Grigorenko and Sarnia (OHL) center Alex Galchenyuk are all viable options – or address a pressing need on the blue-line – Everett (WHL) defenseman Ryan Murray, Red Deer (WHL) blue-liner Matthew Dumba or Moose Jaw (WHL) rear-guarder Morgan Rielly have all been mentioned as potential top-five picks.
Nevertheless, other than Dumba – undersized at six-foot, 185 pounds – the aforementioned candidates being bandied about as a prospective selectee with that fourth pick all lack that imposing presence, necessary for the Islanders to compete in the physically-imposing Atlantic Division.
Would a trade out of its present draft slot to select either Edmonton (WHL) rugged defenseman Griffin Reinhart, standing 6-foot-4, 205-pounds, or USNTDP stay-at-home defenseman Jacob Trouba, standing 6-foot-2, 205-pounds, benefit the Islanders organization in the long run? Or could general manager Garth Snow stand pat at #4 and revert back to his trading ways at the tail end of the 2010 Entry Draft – selected Warroad High School forward Brock Nelson with the 30th pick – and trade up into the latter part of June’s opening round to find a hidden jewel?
Plymouth’s (OHL) Tom Wilson, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound power-forward, born in Toronto, could be that exact diamond in the rough.
“I’m a big, physical guy, who likes to keep things simple,” said Wilson, who patterns his own game after Boston Bruins imposing winger Milan Lucic. “My biggest strength is my size, and while I am presently 205 pounds, I definitely want to get bigger.
“When I thicken out, I will be able to play at 215-to-220 pounds.”
Wilson, who turned 18 back in March, followed an impressive CHL/NHL Prospects Camp back in February in Kelowna, British Columbia with a scoring surge during Plymouth’s postseason run.
Considered a fringe first-round selection at the start of the 2011-12 Ontario Hockey League season, TSN’s Craig Button has pegged Wilson as his 22nd best prospect.
“The prospect camp was a great opportunity for me to play with and learn from some great hockey players,” said Wilson, whose prospect camp highlight included a throw-down with fellow 2012 draft hopeful Dalton Thrower of the Saskatoon Blades. “I played with World Juniors Captain Ryan Murray, who was soft spoken, but taught me a lot. Our coach was (former Pittsburgh Penguin standout) Mark Recchi, who played in the NHL for 22 years and won three Stanley Cups.”
Recchi, who coached Team Cherry, was equally impressed with Wilson’s make-up. He shared his thoughts with the Canadian Press, following his team’s 2-1 setback to Team Orr.
“Wilson was ready to roll tonight, but I think the whole competitive nature of the game was unbelievable,” said Recchi. “Wilson got out there and wanted to set the tone physically, and I think it set the tone a lot for the game.”
After imposing his will in Kelowna, Wilson returned to Plymouth to finish off his second OHL season.
As a rookie, Wilson only managed to collect six points – three goals and three assists – in 28 games, registering 71 penalty minutes. He greatly improved his productivity in his sophomore campaign, scoring 27 points – nine goals and 18 assists – in 49 games, while racking up a team-high 141 penalty minutes.
“I greatly improved my vision – playing on the right wing – from my rookie season,” said Wilson, whose introduction to hockey began on a backyard yard rink at age 2. “But the one area of the game that I still need to improve on is my overall speed.
“It’s not only just the foot speed or hand speed, but doing things at full speed is so important when you get to the next level. Everyone is so fast. You can have speed or fast hands, but learning how to put that all together when you are flying down the wing is so important. I’m working on my puck protection and accelerating out of the zone and creating chances around the net and using my size as I get more experience. That’s probably the biggest thing, putting it all together.”
Wilson’s diligence in honing his overall game paid handsomely during the Whalers’ postseason run. Seeded second in the Western Conference, Plymouth defeated seventh-seeded Guelph in the opening round, four-games-to-two. Unfortunately, Plymouth’s run would be derailed by third-seeded Kitchener, as the Whalers dropped a hard-fought seven-game series, losing the seventh and deciding game, 6-3 at home.
In his 13 postseason games, Wilson collected 13 points – seven goals and six assists. He also led all Whalers with a plus-10, while racking up a team-high 39 penalty minutes.
“He’s (Wilson) a James Neal type in my opinion,” said current Whalers coach and general manager Mike Vellucci, who spent a better part of 10 professional hockey league seasons in the American, International and East Coast Hockey Leagues. “He fights. He fights more than Nealer did, but he can definitely score.
“He can fore-check. And one of the best things he does is body checking. He’s a phenomenal body checker.”
Wilson, who began playing competitive hockey – as a six-year old – for local Blessed Sacrament in Toronto, would spend his next nine years playing locally for three organizations – North Toronto Select (ages 8-to-10), North Toronto ‘AA’ Hockey (ages 11-to-13) and finally for Junior Canadian ‘AAA’ Hockey in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (ages 14-to-16). He was selected in the second round (27th overall) of the OHL Draft by Plymouth.
“I only heard stories – from my dad – about how much I loved every second that I spent on the ice … the first time,” recollects Wilson, who decided at age 12 to give up playing competitive soccer to focus solely on hockey. “And now, with the draft just a couple months away, it would be simply unbelievable to put on any team’s jersey.
“I know that I will never be outworked, and will always be very competitive.”
The NHL Draft is just 44 days away.