Since the New Jersey Devils are keeping their 2012 first round selection, we got the opportunity to be a part of the 2012 NHL Mock Draft along with the other SB Nation blogs. It's not easy picking late in a round, as you have to wait for everyone else on top of having to sort through who's left to select. Nonetheless, with the 29th overall selection, I conferred with Tom and selected Tom Wilson of the Plymouth Whalers.
Tom Wilson is a player that scouts and outside observers are split on. Some feel he's a bruising power forward with some offensive upside, enough to make him a first round caliber prospect. He'll shine in time. Others feel that while he's big, his offensive upside is limited and so what you see from him is what you're going to get. Therefore, he shouldn't go anywhere near the first round. In addition to his size and his physical game, all can at least agree that he is a project as a prospect.
Since Wilson was our selection, it's only fitting that we profile him in addition to providing an explanation as to why he was taken. Other blogs have already taken a look at Wilson, such as The Cannon, Lighthouse Hockey, and Hockey Wilderness, so please check those out as well.
Tom Wilson Career Statistics
Who is Tom Wilson?
According to his prospect profile at NHL.com, Tom Wilson is a 6'4", 203 pound right shooting right winger from the Plymouth Whalers. He's big and he's relatively young given his late March birthdate. He's been in the Ontario Hockey League for two seasons, with his 2011-12 season undercut by a sprained MCL and a broken knuckle, the latter incurred in a fight at the CHL Top Prospects Game. As the stats indicate, his production in the regular season was quite poor. Given that Plymouth was one of the best teams in the OHL with six players averaging at least 0.9 points per game, Wilson's numbers look really bad. He did manage to lead the team in that stat in only 49 games. He did much better in the postseason with 13 points in 13 games, the second most on the Whalers. While that's a smaller sample size, it could be that he just finally got into a groove after a season filled with injury. In any case, that he didn't score a lot in his second season in the OHL doesn't speak well of his offense. However, that's not exactly why some scouts and experts think highly of the big man.
Why We Picked Tom Wilson in the 2012 SBN NHL Mock Draft
Before jumping into what the experts have said, here's the explanation Tom gave me for this selection.
He's big. He's mean. He can score. At 6'4" & 200 pounds, Wilson is a physical specimen who offers a combination of power, skating, and scoring ability that so many teams look for when trying to find the next good power forward. Playing with Plymouth of the OHL, he has missed time with a variety of injuries but when on the ice he is a guy who can punish defensemen with a big hit, rally his team with his fists, or create scoring opportunities. Still a bit raw as a prospect, he got to show his skills off a bit more in the OHL postseason as he was given an opportunity to play with better players and didn't disappoint as he was a point per game player in the playoffs. It's unlikely that Wilson will be around when the Devils select in the real draft on Friday, (he seems likely to go mid-first round and I would be shocked if he made it passed Philadelphia) but if he is there I would hope the Devils would take advantage of an opportunity to add a potential top 6 power forward.
That's about the size of it for Wilson. Tom liked him enough to say that if he's available late, he'd be a good selection. I can't disagree. Picking late in the first round usually means the prospects remaining by that point either have some notable issue or are very safe with low ceilings. The Devils are so thin at forward among their prospects that they can afford to take a chance on a big winger in the hopes he'll develop an offensive game. Also, as you'll learn in the following section, Tom may not be wrong about Wilson not even being available at #29. Some people really like Wilson. After all, CSS bumped Wilson up from 33nd among North American skaters from their midterm to 15th in their final rankings. They wouldn't do that if there wasn't something positive about the guy.
What Experts Have Said About Tom Wilson
I think one of the best summaries about Wilson in general was written by Brock Otten of OHL Prospects. In ranking the OHL prospects himself, he ranked Wilson 12th with the following explanation:
Easily one of the most heavily debated players in this year's draft. The debate is clearly about his offensive potential. Some believe he has some. Others believe he doesn't. I think I lie somewhere in the middle.
At the end of the day, I take him in the first round, but not as high as he's likely to go after a terrific playoff with Plymouth. After putting up a point per game in the postseason and showing teams what he's capable of offensively, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if an NHL team takes him inside the lottery (top 14).
Otten's explanation is worth reading in full to learn his pluses and minuses. Wilson has a big body and he knows how to use it much to the dismay of opposing players. He skates pretty well for his size and he knows how to get to the net and remain there. However, as his production suggests, there are real questions about his shot and hockey sense. That all said, Otten figures he's a first round caliber selection and curiously notes that some teams may jump on him early. More recently, Otten also took the opinions of many other experts in this separate ranking of OHL prospects. Wilson was ranked eighth with some experts not ranking him at all and one placing him as high as fifth. It's a good compilation of opinions.
On the more critical end, Hockey Prospectus prospect guru Corey Pronman does not think so highly of Wilson. He had him ranked 76th in his top 100 prospects list. Here's his explanation:
Wilson is a true power forward with great physical projection and intangibles, although his ultimate offensive upside is a little questionable. His physical game is elite, or close to that level, with a massive frame that has muscle on it and he can be such a pain to deal with along the boards. When Wilson turns his back to a checker, he can protect the puck well, showing decent hands in tight and the ability to make a few plays, but he really controls the puck and makes plays by overpowering his opponent. Wilson is dangerous on the forecheck and will land some thundering hits and will show an edgy side to his game which results in getting involved in a few scraps. Wilson skates at a decent level for a big man, and his first few steps look much better than 1-2 years ago, but he's certainly not a threat with his skating. He will flash decent vision and doesn't have poor hockey sense but he's not an overly creative or instinctive player. The team that drafts Wilson is not taking a bona fide goon or energy player, but they have to understand they aren't taking a top-six power forward, either.
The big reason why Pronman ranked him so low is that this is a description befitting of a third line winger. His skillset suggests this: he bangs a lot of bodies but not as many pucks into the net. While teams and fans would love to have a power forward, he would be going much higher if he really had the offensive traits that are closer to the quality of his physical play. Interestingly, Pronman does note that he at least won't be a fourth line player, which would be a concern given his high PIM totals in the OHL and style of play. That's good, any team should be aiming higher than "energy guy" in the first round even late. Is a third liner? That's up to the team.
On the flipside, here's Craig Button's opinion of the player according to the recently released TSN final draft rankings. For fun, try to read the description and guess where they ranked him before clicking on the link.
Tom is a player who makes opponents very uncomfortable when he's on the ice. He has an undeniable determination and desire to impact the game through physical play. Combine that with a body that complements his desire and you have a wrecking ball type player. It's a purposeful style that can be intimidating but is very effective because he creates room, not only for himself, but for his team. He understands how to utilize these attributes whether along the boards, at the offensive net, or by separating opponents from the puck so his team can gain advantages. His skating continues to improve and he gets to the necessary places so as to create the literal and figurative impact in the game. Very good sense and he doesn't run around aimlessly and his puck skills should not be underestimated because with the room he creates, he also can finish. He's a disruptive force and a unique player because he makes the game fun, just so long as you are not an opponent.
If it wasn't clear by now, Wilson is a physical force all over the ice. Plus, he can skate well, though I don't know if 9 goals in 47 games really says anything good about his finish.
Anyway, now that you read all of that praise, let me tell you that TSN put him at 18th overall. In fact, the other scouting services TSN's ranking mentioned all rank him within their top 30. Button himself ranked him 21st. This is what Tom was getting at in his explanation: if a team (or teams) have that much faith in his development that he'll just get better, then there's no way he's dropping to 29th overall. That TSN, ISS, CSS, and the Hockey News all think he's a top-30 guy would suggest that some NHL scouts might think so too.
Lastly, rather than excerpt them, please check out Sean Lafortune's profile at The Prospect Blog and Shawn Reznik's profile at The Hockey Writers. They key on the buzz for Wilson: he's comparable to Milan Lucic. Guys like Lucic don't come around often. Should Wilson come anywhere close to that, the team who picked him will be very happy.
A Little Video
There's a lot of videos online of Wilson fighting. I don't care much about that. I'd rather show him scoring goals. Like these two playoff goals against Kitchener. The first one in this clip shows his presence in front of the net, while the second one shows off his hustle:
Here's an additional example of Wilson hanging out in the slot and making the Rangers pay for it:
Lastly, here's one more that shows that if he beats a defender, a defender is going to have a lot of trouble to knock that puck away. He's got good hands and control with the puck before scoring on this play:
An Opinion of Sorts
Well, we know what Wilson is as a player. He's huge, he knows how to use it, and he can play a physical game. As Brock Otten brought up, how much you like him depends on how you feel about his offensive upside, much less his overall upside. He's going to be a project. If you think there's some real potential there and he can meet it, then someone will take him on and be patient. If not, then he should be passed over for someone else.
As for the Devils, again, they're really thin at forward in terms of prospects. Drafting Wilson would help in that regard and the fact he's a right shooting, right winger is a pleasant bonus. If it takes a while, then it takes a while; the Devils have been willing to wait on development until all parties feel the player is ready for the next level. As Tom explained, he really would be a power forward prospect and if he's available, it wouldn't be a bad decision. I wish he was more productive, but a season with fewer injuries and playing most of it as an 18-year old should see his totals rise (I hope). The playoffs were short, but they provide some glimmer of hope that he can contribute beyond his physical traits. Whether he will be available at #29 at all is another question entirely.
Now that you know who we selected in the 2012 NHL Mock Draft, I want to know your opinion. Do you think Tom Wilson was a good selection in this mock draft? Who do you think we should have taken instead that was available in the mock draft? What do you think of Tom Wilson as a prospect in general? Do you think he'll develop into a power forward in the NHL? Would you be pleased if the Devils drafted him in the first round, or do you think they could look elsewhere? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Tom Wilson or the 2012 SBN NHL Mock Draft in the comments. Thank you for reading.