Colin Wilson may never be what Nashville dreamed he would become
Sometimes, there may come a time when you look at a relationship and go, "it's not perfect and it's not what I hoped it would be, but I think I can make it work."That's now the case between the Predators and Wilson.
I won't be the first, or the last person, to comment on just how frustrating it can be to watch Colin Wilson play hockey. To understand the full scope of Colin Wilson and his expectations, we have to turn back the clock.
The 2008 Draft
Nashville traded up in the draft - relinquishing picks number 9 and 40, both obtained from Florida after dealing away Predators star goaltender Tomas Vokoun, to the New York Islanders for that fateful number 7 selection in the draft used to pick Wilson.
Nashville would later trade the 15th pick to Ottawa for the 18th pick and a third round choice in the 2009 draft to take goaltender Chet Pickard - who, to this date, has still yet to play a game at the NHL level.
Do you have any guess which player Ottawa chose at 15? Two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson.
Luckily for Nashville, the 2008 draft produced Roman Josi in the second round, so the Predators earned a mulligan for what turned out to have been a throw-away first round selection - in fact, four of Nashville's 15 first round selections have accomplished practically nothing in the NHL: Brian Finley (1999), Ryan Parent (2005), Jonathon Blum (2007) and Chet Pickard (2008).
This is also assuming that Austin Watson and Kevin Fiala will both have prosperous NHL careers and discounting the fact that Alexander Radulov left for Russia.
Interestingly enough, of the players that were selected in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, only 10 players have produced more points than Wilson. Seven of those 10 were selected after Wilson being called seventh overall.
There are some really strong names are on that list: Mikkel Boedker (8th overall), John Carlson (27th overall), Tyler Ennis (26th overall) and Josh Bailey (9th overall).
When you see Edmonton's Jordan Eberle at 22nd overall, though, you're again left frustrated.
Before he was drafted, now-retired scout Gary Eggleston from Central Scouting had this to say about Wilson in an article to NHL.com:
"I like his overall game," said Gary Eggleston, who scouts eastern U.S. prospects for Central Scouting. "His skill level is excellent, he has great hands, incredible vision, he sees the puck flow very, very well. Excellent hockey sense, very good hands, quick feet. There's been a bit of a question about his skating. He's a big kid, but in tight traffic his foot speed is excellent. He moves quickly from Point A to Point B, gets himself in and out of trouble.
"He has very fast feet, quick feet. In open ice, in backchecking, he's been a little bit behind, but he's still very good in recognizing transition. He's still the first guy on the puck in the corners, controls the puck behind the net and in the corners very well. Controls it and makes a play."
Even more impressive was how Wilson jelled with any linemates, as he seamlessly moved up and down the Terriers' lineup.
"He turned out to be a point-per-game guy for Boston University as a freshman and he was moved several times from line to line," said Eggleston. "He played with different wingers all the time and it didn't affect his game at all."
"Excellent hockey sense..."
Some even envisioned him replicating what Patrick Kane had done for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Realistically, Colin Wilson will never be the player that the Nashville Predators thought he would be when they drafted him. There's been no shortage of articles year after year after year assuming that the next or upcoming season will be the season that Wilson will finally break into his top line persona for the Predators.
Regrettably, since signing a brand new four-year, $15.75mil contract this offseason, Wilson has reverted back to a former level of play prior to last year's contract season -- including missing 12 games earlier in the year due to injury.
To an extent, it's almost like last season was an aberration compared to Wilson's normal yearly production levels.
When you look back at how Wilson has performed every season he's been with the Predators, there are plenty of similarities.
Possession-wise, Wilson always has been one of the more positive puck movers on the team - which the underlying metrics confirm over his career. Something to really take notice, though, is Wilson trending towards heavy regression as the season nears completion. This includes Wilson dipping into negative RelCorsi numbers late in the year, when the team needs him to be driving possession the most.
The only season where Wilson continually drove positive possession numbers all season was 2011-12 - one of Nashville's best years as a team in franchise history. (all graphs below via corsica.hockey and are based on 25-game rolling averages)
Wilson also has great starts to the year in regards to the amount of shots forced on net while he's on the ice, but drops off a steep cliff near the end. Even in 2011-12, he began to trail off near seasons end.
In terms of scoring, Wilson's consistently hovered in between the one-to-two points-per-game ratio - seeing an obvious bump last season before his, and subsequently the entire team's, steep nosedive to finish the year.
However, for the third and final time, the tumbling cliff comes into the picture on more than one occasion.
Compare the three aforementioned graphs with these below that insert Craig Smith into the same parameters as Wilson. Smith, for all intents and purposes, has seemingly been just as frustrating of a player to watch sometimes as Wilson has been.
In Smith's case, though, the frustrations that come from watching him play are generally caused by his inability to finish scoring plays than his overall decline towards the end of the season.
In fact, Smith actually gets better as the season progresses.
Something interesting to consider when bringing up Smith is how his, Wilson's and Mike Fisher's WOWY stats look this season - which compares a players' goals for and against per 60 minutes as well as Corsi for and against per 60 minutes when they're with and without certain linemates.
Comparing the three, it paints a small portrait on how Wilson seemed to negatively impact that line.
|Playing with Wilson|
|Playing without Wilson|
Wilson tends to play his best as a bottom-six player for the Predators. That may not necessarily be a bad thing, either.
Case in point? Just look at how he played against the Winnipeg Jets on March 8th when being demoted to the fourth line. He grabbed two assists and played extremely well.
Plus, the Predators top six will be set for the foreseeable future.
Ryan Johansen is the number one center the franchise has always wanted.
Filip Forsberg is the goal-scoring forward they've always hoped to develop.
James Neal sits in the same boat alongside Forsberg, with Nashville paying the steep price of Patric Hornqvist to acquire.
Calle Jarnkrok is developing into a nice top six player, which the Predators hoped he would do after trading away David Legwand to grab him.
Craig Smith has started to show a perpetual ability to be a 20/20 player over his career, which is exactly what Nashville needs from him.
The two Mike's - Fisher and Ribeiro - are serviceable, for the time being, but will probably be departing from the team after next season - possibly even retiring.
Plus, you have players like Pontus Åberg, Kevin Fiala, Max Gortz, Freddy Gaudreau, Max Reinhart and Vladislav Kamenev getting much closer to competing for a spot on the NHL roster.
This doesn't even count the potential of Jimmy Vesey, who could slot right into Nashville's top line if he signs with the team and joins them after Harvard's season ends
With Wilson slotted on the third or fourth line, he won't be expected to produce at a top-six level - which could be one of his biggest issues since starting his career with the Predators - and has the potential to make things a bit easier as well as less stressful.
He's looked fairly decent with his scattered play below the top-six this season, but it's a very small sample size to view from.
Wilson also spoke late last season about his use of a sports psychologist to help him seemingly de-stress and go beyond the pressures of performing at the NHL level. The result? Wilson had the second-best goal-scoring playoff performance in franchise history.
Here's an excerpt from that story via ESPN:
He recorded his career-high 20th goal on March 5 and had been playing some of the best hockey in his six-year career, but he didn't score again over his final 15 regular-season games.
Wilson believed the pressure had gotten to him. As the Predators began their first-round series with the Chicago Blackhawks, he decided the best approach was to shut down his brain.
"Just getting lost in the game," Wilson said. "Once there wasn't as much pressure on me to score at the beginning of the year, so I wasn't thinking about it as much. But as soon as those goals started going in, I started being, you know, looked on. It kind of changes your mindset a little bit. I just tried getting back enjoying the game, playing my game, and pucks have been going in."
Two pucks went in for him in Game 1 and another in Game 2. It was the first time he scored in consecutive games since early February.
Wilson finished with a team-high five goals in the first-round loss to the Blackhawks last season, coming up two shy of Joel Ward in the 2010-11 postseason.
There's no question that Wilson can be a productive player. He's proved it before. He proved's it in the post-season. He can carry possession when he wants to and has a keen ability to force teams to keep him in check when he gets a fire under him.The problem is that there remains no consistency to when he can bottle that lightning and maybe a permanent move to the bottom-six can help with that.
Or you can look at it in the sense that he's very consistent and the lightning in a bottle is more like watching fireflies during a summer's evening in Tennessee. You know they're there. You can see them. Just as quickly as they appear, though, they disappear back into the night sky.
Is Colin Wilson Nashville's firefly?