BALTIMORE -- It’s been just two preseason games but Capitals coach Adam Oates has already seen enough of Tom Wilson to know he belongs in the NHL.
Now he just has to convince George McPhee.
“I like what I see in Willy enough that I would like to keep him around us,” Oates said Tuesday night after Wilson scored the first goal in the Caps’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Bruins in front of 7,634 fans at 1st Mariner Arena.
“That’s obviously going to be George’s call. We talk about it a lot. We definitely don’t want to hurt his learning curve because he looks like he’s going to be a very good hockey player.”
At 19, Wilson has one year of junior eligibility remaining with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. But when asked if he thinks the 6-foot-4, 210-pound right wing is beyond junior hockey, Oates replied, “I feel that way.”
“We need what he brings,” Oates said. “We have some smaller guys in certain positions and he’s a big, strong guy and that will always help.”
Oates said Wilson reminds him of one Hall of Famer Cam Neely and two potential Hall of Famers, Joe Thornton and Jarome Iginla.
Neely scored 395 goals in 13 seasons with the Canucks and Bruins; Thornton has 331 goals in 15 seasons with the Bruins and Sharks; and Iginla has 530 goals in 17 seasons with the Flames and Penguins.
Not bad company.
But how do the Caps know they’re making the right decision on Wilson?
“You don’t,” Oates said. “There’s no perfect formula. There are situations where teams probably regret their decisions and there are teams that thought they made the right decision.
“I remember Joe Thornton in Boston. They kept him the whole year, they barely played him, they kept him under their thumb and made sure he did things right, and he turned out to be a fantastic hockey player.”
As a rookie with the Bruins in 1997-98 Thornton played in 55 games and recorded just three goals. Three years later he had a career-high 37 goals.
“Every team wants a power forward,” Oates said. “When he’s skating around out there you think of Jarome Iginla in Calgary. When I played with Cam Neely he was the same type of guy. Willy really looks like he has the potential to be that type of guy.
“We don’t want to slow him down, but those are rare commodities in this league.”
The question, of course, is where the Caps fit Wilson into their lineup. Tuesday night he played on a fourth line with center Jay Beagle and left wing Aaron Volpatti and scored a goal when he streaked to the net for a tap-in goal on a feed from Nathan Walker.
“I put my stick on the ice and he gave me a great pass,” Wilson said.
For Wilson to make the Caps’ opening night roster on Oct. 1 they’ll need to make room for his $1.3 million salary. And that means someone from last year’s lineup will have to go.
“The Caps have a deep lineup and there’s a lot of great players and I’m just trying to fit in any way I can,” Wilson said.