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Tom Wilson might provide the Caps with the physical presence they desperately need.
The final—yet very important—X-factor for the Caps heading into the 2013-14 season is trying to figure out what sort of impact their young prospects might have and, perhaps more importantly, when that impact will be felt.
The Caps have some very promising prospects playing in the minor leagues that could possibly make an impact if given the chance to play.
There are players like Stanislav Galiev and Connor Carrick who have shown a lot of potential. Galiev was selected in the third round of the 2010 NHL draft by the Caps. Carrick was drafted in the fifth round by the Caps in the 2012 NHL draft.
Galiev just turned in a very strong season for the Reading Royals of the ECHL, scoring 23 goals, handing out 24 assists and registering a plus-16 rating in just 46 games for the Royals.
Carrick played in 68 games for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL and had 12 goals, 32 assists and a solid plus-27 rating. Those numbers sound a lot like Mike Green's, and having another player like that is a problem most teams would like to have.
As promising as Galiev and Carick are, though, there are two other young men who will likely have a much greater impact on the Caps in the 2013-14 season.
One of them is Tom Wilson. Wilson was taken with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft by the Caps. Most figured it would be a couple of years before we actually saw Wilson skate with the Caps. Instead, when the team needed a lift after Martin Erat was injured in Game 4 of the Caps series with the New York Rangers, the Caps turned to the 19-year-old right winger.
Wilson played in three games against the Rangers and one would never know that those were his first three NHL games ever. He looked poised. He looked confident. Most importantly, though, he looked like he belonged.
In the three games he played, Wilson did not score a goal, but that was OK. It was how he played that mattered. In the Game 7 debacle Wilson might have played his best game. In fact, he may have been the best player on the ice wearing a red jersey.
Wilson needs to be on the roster once the doors to training camp open. There is nothing more he can do with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL and having him spend time in Hershey would be a waste of talent.
In the 2012-13 season with the Whalers, Wilson scored 23 goals, had 35 assists and a plus-36 rating in just 48 games. He was again stellar in the playoffs with nine goals, eight assists and a plus-eight rating. He is a difference maker and if general manager George McPhee has a brain in his head, then Wilson will be with the Caps once the puck drops on the 2013-14 season.
The biggest X-factor of all, however, might be Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov is the best prospect in the entire Caps' organization. The 21-year old center has star written all over him. He can skate with the best of them, pass, score, make plays, has fantastic vision and has even improved his game on defense and as a penalty killer.
His stats this past season while playing for Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL certainly demonstrate his potential. He had 19 goals and 25 assists in 51 games during the regular season. In 25 playoff games, Kuznetsov had five goals and six assists, including one in the KHL Championship where Traktor fell in six games to Dynamo Moscow.
The X-factor here is whether Kuznetsov will actually come to D.C. this season. Earlier this year, Kuznetsov stated that he would come and play for the Caps after the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
If he does come to Washington after the Olympics, he has the potential to be an immediate game changer for the Caps. He would also likely arrive right when the Caps would be in the thick of a playoff chase and his addition could be what pushes the Caps over the top.
Conversely, if he does not follow through on coming to D.C., it raises the very real possibility that he will never come to Washington and McPhee will have to think long and hard about trading away this fine young talent and getting something back for him.
The impact of players like Wilson and Kuznetsov—and the timing of that impact —is yet another big X-factor that will determine the fate of the Washington Capitals in 2013-14.