Welcome to Preds Playbook, our newest feature here at SHJ. In this space I’ll be breaking down the X’s and O’s of the game from a Nashville perspective, usually focusing on goals, scoring chances and general systems/philosophies pertaining to the Predators. Hopefully these segments can give fans a better understanding of the finer points of hockey. We begin with a look at Colin Wilson.
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I’ve been watching a lot of film on Colin Wilson recently, and I find myself intrigued by this kid more than any other player on the Preds roster. I suppose that’s because he has so much potential, and it feels like he’s extremely close to putting it all together and becoming a bona fide top-six forward.
When one breaks down Wilson’s game, it becomes easy to see why the Preds organization is so high on the 23-year-old. Among other positive traits, I’ve noticed he has a knack for getting to the right places on the ice — often times near the net. This is what we’ll be focusing on today.
Wayne Gretzky coined the popular phrase “a good player goes to where the puck is; a great player goes to where the puck is going to be,” and Wilson certainly performs with this adage in mind. As we walk through these videos, pay attention to the way Wilson moves around when he doesn’t have the puck, and you’ll be able to appreciate just how good his hockey sense is.
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To kick things off, here’s footage of Wilson scoring against the Kings last season. Watch the video first, then scroll for the breakdown:
Wilson gets the zone entry and moves the puck over to the right side of ice. He then sends a nice backhand pass to Klein (the trailer), who starts driving along the boards.
At this point, Wilson is eight-ish feet above the top of the right circle.
Here is what’s important: Wilson breaks to the slot and does so very quickly. Almost immediately after surrendering possession to a teammate, he starts moving toward a spot on the ice where he can generate a quality scoring chance.
Scuderi (No. 7) is the guy who’s covering Wilson, but the LA defender briefly shifts his focus to Klein (who still has the puck) and doesn’t notice how fast Wilson is getting to the net.
With soft coverage Wilson has plenty of space to receive a pass back from Klein, which leads to a goal.
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Let’s look at another example: Wilson’s first playoff goal.
Wilson starts by controlling the puck on the left boards and fires the puck towards the net.
Wilson’s initial bid gets deflected by Derek Morris, sending the biscuit to Legwand near the right boards. Wilson — who is just out of the frame at the bottom left — sees four Coyotes skaters near the crease…so he starts moving to the middle of the slot, where there’s enough room to lay down a mattress and take a nap.
Lauri Korpikoski, who is covering Wilson, drifts away from his man for a split second while fixated on Legwand, giving Wilson the space he needs to cleanly receive a pass.
Legwand then dishes the puck to Wilson, who deflects it into the back of the net. Goal.
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Last one for today. This goal right here epitomizes the type of play every coach wants to see from a power forward.
Ellis enters the zone just before Wilson, and then pulls up. Wilson, on the other hand, makes a beeline for the net, and Ellis takes notice by firing the puck toward Niemi.
Wilson tips the puck on the way to the net, which is stopped by the Sharks goalie…
…but he has the good sense to stay in front of the net — not skate past goal line, which is the most infuriating thing a forward can do — and scores on the rebound. Game over — Preds win.
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These are just three examples, but I feel like they do a good job illustrating Wilson’s best and most vital skill: on-ice vision. If you take some time to look through the rest of his NHL goals, which can be found here, you’ll notice that he has a habit of being in the right place at the right time. A lot of his tallies look easy, and that’s no accident. That’s a product of his intelligence.
- Working near the crease is where Wilson earns his paycheck, and he should be successful next season if he can continue to create space for himself and regularly drive to the net. To avoid the inconsistency that plagued him in 2011-12, he’s going to have to maintain that edge of his and bring a physical brand of hockey to the ice night in and night out.
- One thing I want to bring up that occurs in the first two highlights: Wilson has the rare ability to exploit split-second lapses by his opponents. When Scuderi and Korpikoski soften up on Wilson in the aforementioned highlights, he uses those tiny slices of time to get to the right spots and create space for himself. This perfectly exemplifies how good his instincts are.
- Wilson is by no means an exceptional skater, but the speed in which he executes is rather impressive. Just look at some of the time stamps on the screen shots from videos Nos. 1 and 3. In No. 1, he goes from standing above the right circle to scoring right in front of the net in two seconds. Three seconds after crossing over the blue line in video No. 3, he tips the puck and promptly ends the game.
- I’d like to see Trotz put Wilson and Viktor Stalberg together during preseason to see if they can develop chemistry. Given the frequency in which Stalberg shoots, the two could work together very well.
- Some fans have been hard on Wilson, and it’s easy to understand their frustration. We live in an age when top 10 draft picks are expected to rapidly evolve into stars, and Wilson’s progression has been slower than those of many comparable prospects. Yes, he’s entering his sixth year in the Preds’ system, but he’s still 23. He’s probably 4-7ish years away from his prime and has a lot of room to grow. With adequate ice time, the right approach and strong supporting cast, there’s good reason to believe he can thrive in 2013-14.
Hope you guys enjoyed this…I’ve been meaning to put together a playbook feature for a while. Expect many more this season.
Feel free to hit me up on Twitter @andrewhirsh if you have any questions/thoughts.
Photo credit: Icon SMI