As the 29 owners of the Phoenix Coyotes and Commissioner Gary Bettman step to the podium to announce their selection in the 2012 NHL draft, a hush falls over the crowd. The fans gathered in Pittsburgh, sitting in the upper bowl, become strangely quiet. Parents and their draft eligible children nervously look over each shoulder. You can feel it in the Consol Energy Center. There is a disturbance. The quiet is replaced by a murmur. Gary Bettman stands at the podium, confident and poised. He knows what is about to happen. The 29 owners with him break into a sly grin.
The doors at the back of the building are thrown open, sunlight floods the opening. You see a silhouette of a man. The light behind him, just as taught by Sun Tzu in the Art of War. Striding down the center of the building floor, he passes the round tables with a center placecard holder listing the name of each team. As he passes, each table erupts in cheers. General Managers and scouts stand to salute. One by one, table by table. The floor is in a frenzy. The camera swivels to catch this mysterious man as his foot hits the bottom step of the stage. It is him. It is Greg Jamison, the new owner of the Coyotes.
At once, the 29 owners on stage join the celebration. They have finally stopped paying the bills for the Coyotes. The team has an owner and financing. Gary Bettman and Bill Daly give each other a handshake as they can finally put to end the three year ordeal of working to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix. No more 115 degree days as they travel to court in Glendale. No more taking calls on the ownership issue during his NHL show on Thursday. He can now concentrate on the New York Islanders and their problems.
Mr. Jamison strides to the stage, puts both hands on the side of the podium, leans into the microphone and calmly states “The Arizona Coyotes select Tom Wilson from the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League.” And as quickly as he took the stage he leaves. A hot microphone catches him discussing season ticket plans and youth hockey programs in the valley.
Tom Wilson is a 6’4″ 200 pound right winger who shoots right. Born in March of 1994 in Toronto, he has two things going for him. One, being born in March. If you read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, you recall the chapter on the majority of players in the NHL and Hockey Hall of Fame are born in January, February, and March. They get the advantage of playing against kids who are born in November and December. Youth hockey is grouped by birth year. At the Squirt and PeeWee level, being 10 months older than other kids give you a size and coordination advantage. Add to the chronological advantage the size of Tom, you have potential for an impact player.
The second thing going for Tom Wilson is his skill. He is projected to be more of a 3rd or 4th line grinder. What every team needs and what separates the top teams from the middle level teams. What was amazing about the LA Kings run this year was the ability of Coach Darryl Sutter to role 4 lines. His 4th line was not just an energy line that you put on the ice when you need to change the momentum. The Kings 4th line was as good at scoring and puck possession as most teams 2nd or 3rd lines. The 4th line got significant ice time throughout the season and this gave them confidence and improved their playmaking ability. The more ice time you get, the more chances to make proper utilization of those opportunities. It took the Kings almost half the season to get to where they started the playoffs. A relentless wave of attack to the puck. It took half the season for players to buy in and learn how to play this system. It also took larger players who could be physical on every shift and deliver the hit that disrupted normal puck possession. It doesn’t have to be a hit that dumps you into the bench. Just enough so you know the next time you touch the puck a shoulder is coming your way. Instead of holding the puck for 3 seconds, you’ll see players dumping it off in 2 seconds. The normal timing of lines is now disrupted which will lead to turnovers. And when you turn it over in your defensive zone, you usually end up digging the puck out of the back of your net.
Tom Wilson played 49 games for Plymouth this past season. He collected 27 points off of 9 goals and 18 assists for a + 17 rating to go along with his 141 penalty minutes in 49 games. This was an improvement over his 2010-2011 season production of 6 points (3G3A) in 28 games. The 2012 playoffs saw the emergence of Tom and what he can do. First, he was a point per game player. Second, he was a 3 penalty minute per game player (39 minutes in 13 games). The discipline can be improved so he won’t take a bad penalty for his team. He can limit his penalties as he joins teams that can utilize his offensize production and pick his spots to be the sandpaper. He is a Rafi Torres prototype. Scores, big and physical, takes us considerable minutes and will be a problem for the opposition. The Plymouth Whalers have a great coaching pedigree of recent alumni Paul Maurice (1993-1995) and Pete DeBoer (1995-2001) going back to JimRutherford (1991-1992). The NHL CS (Central Scouting) has Tom Wilson listed as the 15th best player in the draft.
When you think about the Coyotes playoff run this year, who were the top players not named Mike Smith? Taylor Pyatt, Daymon Langkow, Derek Morris, Shane Doan. Taylor was able to use his size and strength to occupy the crease and dig the puck out of the corners. He was not moved when he decided he wanted that piece of ice. Derek is just nasty and added a redline goal to his production. Shane is Shane. Enough said. And Langkow moved the puck efficiently and kept many plays alive thanks to his hockey knowledge and ability to see the play as it happened. Derek is mean, Shane and Taylor have size. The Coyotes need size and aggression to compete in the Western Conference. The supremely talented players like Ray Whitney or Martin St. Louis are available every draft. If you are not super sized or a scoring machine, it is hard to get recognized at the junior levels. You really have to stand out with all the skills and skating ability that keeps you in the elite levels. That is what Tom Wilson can deliver.
Looking toward the future, you would like to see Tom get about 3 years of more experience playing against older kids (anyone under 21 is a kid to me) and then spend a year with Portland before attempting to make the transition to the NHL. Players like Peter Mueller, Viktor Tikohonov and Kyle Turris were rushed into the system when they were 18 and it hurt their game more than it helped. The ability to play against talent that is at your level or slightly superior will develop your psyche more than being eaten alive by a She Weber or Pavel Datsyuk. To play at the elite levels, you need skill, good coaching, and confidence. Michel Boedker had the first two this year in training camp. By the end of the season he developed the third. Think about how well he played this year in February and March as compared to October.
Plus, he joins the All Announcers name club of Mike Smith and Shane Doan. What play-by-play man would not want to call a “Stop by Smith, outlet to Yandle, up to Doan, over to Wilson. Score! Easy with those names. Almost like a time for a mental break.