Colorado Avalanche Need Tom Wilson-Type Player

DENVER, CO - APRIL 01: Tom Wilson #43 of the Washington Captitals skates againast the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on April 01, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Capitals defeated the Avalanche 4-2. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - APRIL 01: Tom Wilson #43 of the Washington Captitals skates againast the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on April 01, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Capitals defeated the Avalanche 4-2. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Colorado Avalanche lineup could be augmented by a player like Tom Wilson. Maybe they should ask about his availability.

The Colorado Avalanche are pretty clear on what type of player they like. The team wants a fast game. Players need to not only be able to skate fast, they need to think the game fast. Stick skills and playing a 200-foot game are also high priorities for the Avs in building a roster.

To gain those qualities, Colorado has been willing to give up some size and grit.  Now, on the face of things, that’s not so bad — fast, skilled play makes for exciting hockey. However, as we’ve seen with the Edmonton Oilers, you can’t build a successful team out of just one type of player. You need a variety.

Size and grit are a part of the game. The main style of defense in hockey is checking — most assuredly body checking. Therefore, a player with a mean streak can be a boon, as long as he’s not a liability otherwise. Enter Tom Wilson, a player who’s not going to win any popularity contests outside of Washington.

The Avalanche roster could be augmented by a player with Wilson’s skill set and temperament.

About Tom Wilson

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Tom Wilson is one of the most hated players in the NHL, except among Washington Capitals fans. He hits. A lot. And hard. He fights. A lot. He’s recorded an impressive 62 NHL fights five seasons. And sometimes he plays dirty.

I recently read an article in The Athletic about Tom Wilson, and author Scott Burnside brought up some interesting aspects of Wilson’s play that haters often ignore — he’s got some finesse to his game. He’s fast. He sees the game well. And he’s got enough stick skills to get the puck to linemates Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov — or bang it into the net if it deflects his way.

Wilson can land some cheap shots, no question. He sometimes takes penalties at the wrong time. He’s a master of open-ice hits:

Here’s the thing about Wilson, though. He’s aggressive, but you rarely see his level of grit combined with speed and hockey IQ. What’s more, he’s very responsible defensively — to the point that he’s a main penalty killer for the Caps.

Here’s what his own teammate, Jay Beagle, said of him:

"“There’s maybe one or two other guys that play the way Tom does. The way he’s so defensively responsible, he plays the PK [penalty kill], and he’s also a killer. He really is. He hits hard. He can fight and does really well with it.”"

One aspect of Wilson’s game that also came up in the article was his compete level. Rather than find ways to motivate him, coaches have to rein him in sometimes. Dare I say, he has that Stanley Cup attitude?

All of that is a reason why he’s such a hated player in the NHL — but why Caps fans love him.

Let’s face it — he’s kind of across between Gabriel Landeskog and Nikita Zadorov. You know who else he’s like? Claude Lemieux.

No Head-Hunting

Speaking of Claude Lemieux, one aspect of Tom Wilson’s game I’m not a fan of is his head hunting — literal head hunting. Wilson has been known to hit players in the head directly. And in this day and age, when we know the dangers of concussion, that’s a big, fat no-no.

Here’s the hit that literally sent Zach Aston-Reese to the hospital with a concussion and broken jaw:

Caps fans and writers will point out Wilson’s size — he’s 6-foot-4. Sometimes his shoulder just naturally slots higher on a player, especially shorter ones. Likewise, he’s playing the game fast — no lugubrious goon is Tom Wilson. No matter what you think of him, the truth is he can skate. Sometimes when you’re moving that fast, you catch a part of the body — the head — when you don’t mean to.

Like Gabriel Landeskog on Brad Marchand:

Wilson himself has said that he walks the edge on a lot of plays. However, when he’s thinking the game, here’s how he makes the distinction:

"“You never want to cross a line where you’re not going to be able to go for a beer with the guy after the game.”"

I think that’s a good distinction to make. I also think it’s fair to say that, when you head-shot a guy, he’s not going to like you well enough to toss back a beer with you.

I believe that, 90% of the time, those head hits are because Wilson is tall and fast. I’m not going to apologize for that other 10%, though. I’d like to think Wilson isn’t really targeting the head anymore than Landeskog does. I’d like to think that 10% of the time he just doesn’t care if the hit connects with the head.

I’d like to see that part of his game eradicated.

Next: Landeskog Fights Schenn

Slotting into the Colorado Avalanche Lineup

More from Mile High Sticking

Tom Wilson isn’t coming to Colorado. I think it would be cool if he did. However, the Washington Capitals appreciate the value they have in the young forward and likely have no desire to give him up. (I’m not saying he’s untouchable, but the touch would come too steeply.)

That said, the Colorado Avalanche should look into players like him — speedy, aggressive and with some skills. If the player is fast and has enough skill, I’d like to see him on MacKinnon’s line in place of Landeskog. Otherwise, I’d love to see him playing with Tyson Jost and/or Alexander Kerfoot.

Because a guy like Tom Wilson creates space for skill players. And, unlike the goons of yesteryear, he doesn’t drag them down.

If, for some reason, Wilson himself became available — he’s a pending restricted free agent making $2 million yearly — I think Colorado should make an offer on him. As far as I’m concerned, everything they got for Matt Duchene outside of Sam Girard is house money. If Washington would cough Wilson up for some of those assets, the Avalanche should take a flyer at him.