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Tom Wilson continues to impress as he looks for a roster spot.
If George McPhee is correct, then the future of the Capitals has been on full display this past week at the Caps' Development Camp.
Almost all of the Caps' top prospects—with the exception of Evgeny Kuznetsov of course—have spent the past week at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex honing their craft and trying to make a case, possibly, for a roster spot this fall.
Players such as the 23rd overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft, Andre Burakovsky, and the 53rd overall pick, Madison Bowey, have been participating at the Development Camp this past week.
It is rather fascinating to read the thoughts of players such as Bowey, Riley Barber and Sam Anas. Much of this information can be viewed on the Caps webpage at this link. Included on that page are highlights from Development Camp of Burakovsky, Barber and Connor Carrick.
It is great experience for those young players. But most eyes are keenly fixed upon two players more so than others: Tom Wilson and Michael Latta.
Wilson, the No. 16 overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, played in three games against the New York Rangers in the playoffs and was rather impressive.
He now wants to stay in Washington and not go back to the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL.
NHL.com ran a good article on Wilson recently recapping his rise to, perhaps, becoming a full-time member of the Caps. This little snippet from that article demonstrates that, perhaps, Wilson has simply outgrown the OHL and is ready to take a major next step:
A case can be made that the 6-foot-4, 217-pound power forward has outgrown the OHL, where in 60 games last season (regular season and playoffs), Wilson had 32 goals, 75 points and 145 penalty minutes. He was voted the best body checker in the OHL Western Conference for the second straight season in a coaches' poll.
This echoes what I have said previously, namely that there is nothing more Wilson can gain from playing in the OHL and he is too young to play in the AHL.
That basically leaves the Caps as the only viable option. I strongly suspect that McPhee is watching Wilson very closely to see how he is progressing. If Wilson is NHL ready, it gives McPhee some flexibility as to what, if anything, he wants to do with free agency moving forward.
As is customary for McPhee, he is taking a practical approach to all of this. As he said in the NHL.com article:
You have to do what's best for a player's development and that's a decision we'll make in September. We'll have enough flexibility on the [salary] cap and with our roster to keep him or not keep him. As I've always said, we try to let them make the decisions for us. ... So we'll see what it looks like in September. If he's ready to play, he stays. If he's not, he goes.
Despite all of that, I have a feeling that McPhee already knows whether he is keeping Wilson or sending him back to the OHL. Based on everything I have read and heard, Wilson has looked impressive at Development Camp so far.
As for Latta, he knows full well that with Matt Hendricks' departure, there is void to fill on the Caps. Latta seems to be the one who wants to assume that role.
In an interview Latta gave to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post, the young center showed that he recognizes the unique opportunity he has:
As a young, right-handed centerman that kind of plays a role similar to Hendricks, I see him leave and I’m sure Caps fans are upset and I heard nothing but good things about him, but he leaves and maybe that opens up a spot for me. You never know. It’s nice for myself, personally and selfishly that he’s gone, so we’ll see. Hopefully I can do what he did and earn a spot here.
Most Caps' fans were very fond of Hendricks and hated to see him leave. But Latta offers a dimension to his scoring game that Hendricks, arguably, did not have.
If you look at what Latta did after he was traded to the Caps, it has to give you hope. He played in 14 games for Hershey, was the third line center and scored three goals. The general consensus was that he was a hard worker, very determined and eager to make a name for himself.
There is a ton of potential with Latta. Somewhat ironically, he very well could be a much better acquisition than Martin Erat, who was also acquired in the infamous Filip Forsberg trade.
I suspect that even though a decision on Latta won't be made until after training camp in September, McPhee has to watching him closely, maybe even more so than Wilson. The Caps have a little bit of depth on the wings but practically none at center.
If Latta looks like he will be NHL ready come September, it again gives McPhee more options as far as any decisions he might be making as to Mikhail Grabovski or any other free agents.
Though it flew under the radar some, the Caps Development Camp may have been one of the most important things going on with the Washington Capitals this past week.