Tom Wilson signed the biggest contract of his career in early August, inking a seven-year, $45.5 million extension that could take him to retirement. The Capitals were without Wilson for much of last season after the forward tore his ACL during the 2022 playoffs. Wilson made his return in January but struggled to find his previous form through the remainder of the season.
During an appearance on TSN 1050’s First Up, Wilson discussed the progress of his recovery, as well as rehabbing much of last season with Nicklas Backstrom.
“It was a tough year, but this summer I’m starting to feel a lot better,” Wilson said. “Once you get kind of a year post-op, it definitely makes a big difference. I’m feeling great now, excited for the season.”
After making his season debut on January 8, Wilson played just eight games before sustaining another injury, fracturing his ankle on January 24 against the Colorado Avalanche. He would ultimately play only 33 games in 2022-23.
Though Wilson’s scoring pace remained fairly consistent with past years — he earned 22 points (13g, 9a) in those 33 games — his point total was largely reliant on special teams, earning only five of his goals at five-on-five. The Capitals were also badly outscored with him on the ice at five-on-five (28 to 20) and gave up more than 60 percent of high-danger chances against.
With the contract extension, the Capitals are betting that Wilson will continue to improve and fully bounce back from the ACL injury. Wilson told reporters during the Capitals’ Breakdown Day in April that the injury still had lingering effects at the end of the 2022-23 season.
“Even when you come back from an ACL, you get through a game, you’re still recovering,” Wilson explained. “The next morning you’re sore. You play a back-to-back, you’re sore. It’s always on your mind a little bit. Yeah, I was able to play well on the ice but it’s still in your head. Hopefully I’m at the point in September, a year plus where you’re feeling really good and you’re not thinking about it anymore.”
The Capitals injury-ridden season had one silver lining for Wilson: he was able to heal alongside Nicklas Backstrom, who was recovering from hip resurfacing surgery. The pair worked together while out of the lineup and returned on the same night. During his interview with First Up, Wilson discussed the impact of their joint time rehabilitating.
“The great thing was actually I had Nick Backstrom with me for most of it because he had a big hip surgery,” Wilson said to TSN 1050. “So we were able to hang out and push each other and he’s a guy that definitely makes the people around him better.
“He’s a great leader. So, when you have someone of that resume that he does, and you’re coming into the rink every day, it definitely pushes you to get back and continue improving.”
Wilson admitted the difficulty of spending so long away from the team, making his work alongside Backstrom even more important.
“I think that’s the thing that guys miss most when they move on, is just coming into the rink every day,” he said. “It definitely changed it, for three, four months there. The rink was a little quieter in the morning when the guys were on the road. But Backy and I found a way to to work hard, have fun, and just do what we had to do to be ready to jump on a moving ship once we got back, and it worked out. But when you have a guy of that caliber with you every day, it’s not hard to put in the work. And, you don’t have to look far for it for a great example.”
As Wilson prepares for the season to come, teammate Alex Ovechkin is on the brink of history, sitting only 73 goals away from breaking Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record. Wilson explained that the team’s performance and Ovechkin’s goal chase feed into each other, with each propelling the other forward.
“It’s pretty incredible what he’s doing,” Wilson said. “I think as a team, we understand that if he’s having that individual success and chasing something of that magnitude, it’s going to help the team be better. And we’re going to have to win games and be competitive to keep him on the hunt. So I think it goes hand in hand a little bit.
“It’s been incredible to have a front row seat to the last little bit of it, and it’s pretty amazing to sit there and watch him night in night out carry the the burden of being a superstar for as long as he has, leading the league in goals and chasing Wayne Gretzky. And he just does it in stride and has a ton of fun with it. So it’s pretty cool. It’s special.”
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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