The statistics aren’t there this season – nobody can deny that – but when Colin Wilson is firing on all cylinders, he’s a key cog in the Nashville Predators lineup.
Nobody can deny that either.
Wilson has been on the shelf with a lower body injury since January 9 but appears poised to return to the lineup on Tuesday night against the visiting Washington Capitals. Despite his lackluster 16 points on the year, make no mistake, he’s important to Nashville and what they want to accomplish.
“We’ve missed him a lot,” Filip Forsberg said. “He hasn’t been able to score as many goals as he’s probably wanted so far but, looking back at last year, he was really strong for us. And, in the playoffs, he was probably our best forward scoring a lot of big goals. He definitely didn’t lose those abilities so it’s going to be huge to get him back.”
The 2014-15 campaign was a career year for Wilson, posting 42 points in 77 games and then going onto lead the team with five goals during their six-game playoff series against the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.
“He’s another big part of the team,” Craig Smith said. “He’s able to make impact plays all over the ice. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s a leader in his own way. He’s been here for a long time, he knows the game and anytime you can add that [to the lineup], it’s huge.”
The former Boston University star had seven points in his last eight games before his latest injury. In his previous 28 games this season, however, he mustered just nine – including only one goal. Not exactly the season the Predators hoped for when they re-signed him to a four-year, $15.75 million contract this past summer.
“I think that’s what happened my last little run of games there before I got hurt,” Wilson said. “I really just didn’t take anything for granted and was trying to have fun out there and help the team win.”
Nobody wants to sit out but, in doing so, Wilson has a new perspective.
“It makes you appreciate the game,” he said. “When you play 82 games, sometimes you get a little run down but, when you’re sitting out, you’re chomping at the bit to get back. And then, when the team isn’t doing well, it really motivates you to get back in and not take anything for granted once you’re back.”
The team has struggled as of late and are 8-7-2 without Wilson in the lineup this year. The question is which player will they get the rest of the way? Wilson has struggled with consistency his entire career. Take last season for example. In the 26 games between December 22 and February 21, the Greenwich, Connecticut native was a point-per-game player, tallying 26 points. In the 51 other games he played in? Just 16. If Wilson can harken back to this time last year and/or pick up where he left off before his most recent injury, it will be like the Predators made a deadline deal for an offensive winger without giving anything away in return.
The 2008 seventh overall pick will most likely skate on a line with Mike Fisher but, regardless of who his linemates will be, chemistry isn’t a concern for his head coach.
“No matter who I put him with – if I put him with Ribeiro or I put him with Fisher, he played a game with Johansen – he’s played with all these guys,” Peter Laviolette said. “It’s just a matter of getting out there and just getting the timing, getting the hands and getting the conditioning out there a little bit. There’s always a little bit of an adjustment there but, as far as the teammates go, I don’t see much of a problem.”
“I don’t think you change much,” he said about chemistry among linemates. “I don’t think you prepare any different. I guess you just make the guy feel as comfortable as possible but with a guy like Colin, he’ll be ready to go. He’s a professional. I don’t think it’ll take him long to get back in the swing of things.”
Nashville better hope not. They’re in a wild card spot for the playoffs right now with a 25-20-8 record but are 10 points away from the St. Louis Blues, the team immediately ahead of them in the Central Division. If they want to breathe any easier once the calendar flips to April, it would behoove them to catch up.
“We need him,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “He’s a really important player for us. He’s a big body, he can play a physical role but also brings a lot of skill on the ice. When he’s going, he’s hard to contain. He’s one of the more dangerous forwards for us.”
Exactly. When he’s going. The Predators very much hope he steps on the ice Tuesday and rattles off another 26 points-in-26 games stretch like last year. If they do, it’ll be the best transaction they can make this side of the Ryan Johansen trade.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Fuqua