Tom Wilson‘s 2018-19 season started as a disaster and ended as a triumph.
|18.2||time on ice per game|
|49.7||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage, adjusted|
|47.1||5-on-5 expected goal percentage, adjusted|
|54.9||5-on-5 goal percentage, adjusted|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows various metrics for the player over the course of the season. A short description of each chart:
Tom Wilson’s season started as badly as it possibly could have. After injuring Oskar Sundqvist in a preseason game, Wilson missed the first month of the season to suspension. It was a profound setback for a player who has struggled to break free of the reputation he has cultivated since his rookie season.
But then: He sorta did.
Meet Tom Wilson, scoring top-six forward. Wilson notched more than 20 goals for the first time in his career despite playing a career-low 63 games. After spending half a decade toiling as a bottom-sixer with occasional cameos with the top line, Wilson has finally cemented role with his own individual offense.
Wilson’s goal scoring skyrocketed as he continued his progress in shooting more and shooter better. And though his 16.9 percent shooting inflated his overall goal totals, his underlying offensive process is sound and trending in the right direction.
This is the story of a player — in his sixth pro season — finally finding his scoring touch. That’s tremendously encouraging, but it’s only half the story. All this offense has arrived because Wilson has removed from his game many of the tangible details that made him such a conspicuous prospect and notorious young player. Namely, hitting:
Wilson’s been progressing in this way for years, but 2018-19 found him complementing his wiser playmaking with actual hockey goals. And these numbers might even understate the leap Wilson made, as the Caps possessed the puck less this season, meaning Wilson had more opportunities to hit opponents. Except he didn’t. Wilson just helped the Caps transition back to offense, more often forgoing some of the crustier parts of his game.
This wasn’t a total transformation. Wilson still got into six fights, tied for tops in the league. And he certainly still threw some big hits during the regular season — but he threw fewer of them, and none of them led to suspensions.
That smarter utilization made Wilson more available to help Washington out where they needed it. If one of the team’s biggest problems this season was the defensive vulnerability of the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov pairing, then Tom Wilson was certainly a positive mitigation. Without Wilson, Ovechkin-Kuznetsov owned just 37.6 percent of on-ice expected goals, but that number jumped way up to 46.8 percent when Wilson joined them. That huge improvement came from cutting down opponent offense rates by about 15 percent without trading away Washington’s offense. That defensive reliability is consistent with Wilson’s player profile as a good two-way player.
I wrote two very snarky stories about Tom Wilson this season. Upon his return from suspension, I wrote in an oblique way about how Wilson’s bad hits have undermined any argument that he’s a useful player. A week later, I collected 15 quotes over five years people discussing how Wilson needs to play “smarter”. In 2018-19, Tom Wilson played smart, he made better choices, and he scored a ton of goals. That’s nothing short of a triumph, and I can’t wait to see how he follows it up.
Last year I embedded a whole bunch of GIFs of Tom Wilson hurting people. I’m not doing that again.
What did Tom Wilson do to change? How does he follow this season up? Should he be Ovechkin’s off-wing forever?
Read more: Japers Rink
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.