April 27, 2012

Could Bruins add power with Whalers' Wilson?

By Kirk Luedeke

With NHL teams on the lookout for the next legitimate power forward in the mold of Milan Lucic, it comes as no surprise that Plymouth Whalers winger Tom Wilson tops the list when it comes to 2012 draft eligibles who best resemble Boston’s bruiser. 

Plymouth forward Tom Wilson says he's modeled his game after B's winger Milan Lucic. (Photo courtesy of Plymouth Whalers)

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Wilson is coming off a disappointing second-round playoff defeat to the Kitchener Rangers in a series that went the distance in seven grueling games.  Although the Toronto native was once thought to be the kind of player who would be sitting there for the B’s at the bottom of the opening round in the June 22 NHL Entry Draft, Wilson’s seven goal, 13-point performance in as many games may have put the hard-nosed forward out of Boston’s reach.

 “I’d much rather still be playing,” Wilson said recently after hitting the weight room hard in preparation for the annual scouting and draft combine in early June. “It’s a disappointment to come up short in the playoffs, so I just have to work harder and focus on the next important event."

 Wilson was born and raised in Toronto, so he developed a rooting interest in the hometown Maple Leafs. However, because his father was born in Montreal and is a Canadiens fan, Wilsonalso had ties to the Habs as a youngster. Those loyalties stand in stark contrast to the one NHL player the Plymouth forward admires the most these days.

“The player I try to pattern my game after is Milan Lucic,” said Wilson. “He’s a big, physical winger who plays the game like I do.  Just the way he uses his size and skill to make big hits and score goals, he’s definitely someone I try to get as much as I can from when I watch him.”

Wilson also cited Mats Sundin as a favorite player as a youngster growing up in Toronto more for the former All-Star’s character and leadership.

 The 27th overall pick in the OHL Priority Selection two years ago by Plymouth (early second round) has shown significant progress since coming out of the Toronto Jr. Canadiens AAA minor program.  Wilson is that strong, edgy  player with skill who can alter the tempo of the game with a big hit, fight or key goal or assist.

“The big thing for me is going out there and working hard,” he said. “I’m trying to create space for my linemates wherever I can. I use my body and strength to get my more skilled goal scorers the puck and I bring a good physicality to the mix by finishing my checks. “

 And what about that big, wide-bodied frame that should pack on an additional 10-20 pounds of muscle when Wilson reaches his physical peak.

 “I would say I bring a good net presence,” he said. “I park myself in front of the net and try to tip pucks on goal and do whatever I can to help my team score.”

When looking for areas to improve upon, Wilson said the adjustment to the speed at higher levels and being able to do things at a quicker pace will be a challenge for him.

“Doing everything at full speed is going to be tough,” he noted. “Everyone can have good hands or make plays standing still or when they have time out there. The NHL and professional game is so much faster than junior, with everything happening at full speed. I think that will take a lot of getting used to and is something I have to keep working on.”

Wilson’s regular season numbers were similar to Lucic’s back during his draft year in 2005-06: both scored nine regular season goals.  Lucic progressed to 30 the season after he was picked 50th overall, earning 2007 Memorial Cup MVP honors to cap off that campaign. Wilson has been a more productive playmaker in his draft season with the Whalers, and his impressive playoff stats may be whatever a team picking top-20 needed to take the plunge on draft day.

“I’m very excited,” Wilson said when asked about attending the draft in Pittsburgh. “Obviously, when you’re still playing it’s easier to put everything in the back of your mind. But now, with the draft looming up closer, it’s something I’m thinking about and I’m looking forward to seeing where I end up.”

Wilson’s presence in the 2012 CHL Top Prospects Game earned him respect and praise in NHL circles for his effective power game.

“I think he made a statement there,” said an NHL scout. “Everyone is looking for that next Lucic it seems, and if you look at the way Wilson plays, you can see the similarities.”

 As for Wilson, he had a specific game plan going into the annual contest which usually ends up being an exhibition for the most skilled among the CHL draft class.

 “It’s such a privilege to go to something like that with so many talented players,” he said of the opportunity to skate in the CHL Top Prospects Game. “I tried to separate myself from some of the more skilled players by playing a big physical game, going out and making a lot of hits, and even fighting.”

Coached by former Bruin and future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi, Wilson relished the experience to interact with his peers who are going through the same process, while having the former NHL star remind them to have fun and “soak it all in.”

Wilson has done just that by embracing his role on the Whalers as a fan favorite and budding offensive star.

“The Plymouth organization is amazing,” he said. “It produces great pros, we have a terrific coach in Mike Vellucci, and the fans are so good to us. I couldn’t ask for a better situation as a player.”

Now, with just a little over a month between Wilson and the NHL draft combine, he’ll complete the next phase of work in the weight room to get himself ready for physical testing. If his work ethic on the ice is any indication of what is to come, he’ll come out of the Combine with high marks.

After that, he’ll wait those last three weeks for the draft and see what the next situation brings.

Kirk Luedeke can be reached at kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kluedeke29.