Capitals forward prospect Tom Wilson was sitting in his hotel room Thursday evening watching Game 5 between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens when it hit him.
"I'm going to be in [the Stanley Cup Playoffs] and have an opportunity to be in it," he told himself. "And now I do."
The 19-year-old, one of Washington's two first-round draft picks in 2012 (16th overall), will make his NHL debut Friday against the Rangers in Game 5 of the teams' Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Wilson will skate alongside forwards Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle on the fourth line and will be tasked with using his 6'4", 210-pound frame to provide another physical presence in what has been an incredibly fierce playoff series through four games.
"Every time there’s a chance to hit a guy, you should finish him because in a long series the bumps and the bruises, if you ask any hockey player, they add up," Wilson said. "So guys finish their checks in the playoffs and they play hard. I’ve played in playoff games before and I love it and I’m a really competitive kid and just want to win, so I’m going to do everything I can."
In each of the last two seasons, Wilson has been voted "Best Body Checker" in the Ontario Hockey League Western Conference Coaches Poll.
Martin Erat, who left Wednesday's 4-3 loss with an apparent left forearm injury, will not play Friday, so with Eric Fehr moving up to the second line and Joel Ward replacing Fehr on the third, there was an opening on the fourth line that needed to be filled. After hearing nothing but good things from general manager George McPhee and the team's scouting department, Oates had no reservations about inserting the 19-year-old into the lineup.
"Well, we’re obviously very confident," Oates said. "He had a great year. A big, strong kid. He’s obviously – he’s got a big body for a kid his age, so you know what, he can fit in. It’s a rarity, but it happens, and we think it’ll go great.”
Wilson is the fourth player in franchise history to make his NHL debut during the postseason, joining Trent Whitfield (2000), Chris Felix (1988) and Grant Jennings (1988).
Here is the entire lineup for Friday's game:
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin
Eric Fehr - MIke Ribeiro - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson
Extras: Aaron Volpatti (healthy), Joey Crabb (healthy), Wojtek Wolski (healthy), Brooks Laich (groin surgery)
Karl Alzner - Mike Green
John Erskine - John Carlson
Jack Hillen - Steven Oleksy
Extras: Jeff Schultz (healthy), Tom Poti (healthy)
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