Mar 22, 2012
By Jason Karnosky
Kyle Wilson knows what it is like to be underestimated.
Originally selected in the ninth-round of the 2004 National Hockey League entry draft by Minnesota, the Milwaukee Admirals’ forward has made himself into a indispensible and adaptable commodity at every step along the way of his a six-year professional playing career.
“I am not a player that is going to go out and score 50 goals in the NHL, but every team needs guys that are going to play hard and fill different roles,” said Wilson, whose resume of dressing in 39 NHL games ranks higher than all but two players (Clayton Stoner and Ryan Jones) from the Wild’s 2004 draft class. “I’ve found that being more versatile gives you more opportunities and more ice time, so I’ve tried to develop myself into that type of player.”
Prior to turning professional, Wilson matured as a player and person in his four colligate years at Colgate from 2002-2006. The Oakville, Ontario native contributed just six points during in his freshman season, but evolved into one of college hockey’s elite players by his season year, piling up 23 goals and 41 points in 39 games. During his time with the Raiders, Wilson helped the school earn its only berth in the NCAA tournament during the decade (in 2005).
After turning professional, Wilson’s playing stock rose substantially during his first full season in the American Hockey League with the Hershey Bears. Wilson scored a career high 30 goals and 61 points over the course of the 80-game 2007-2008 campaign, helping the defending Eastern Conference champions return to the playoffs.
Though the Bears got knocked off by eventual Calder Cup finalist Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the first round of the 2008 playoffs, Wilson was a part of championship winning squads during the next two seasons.
“It’s nice for (us) to come to a franchise with a history of winning and it’s always good to be a part of that,” said Admirals defenseman Tyler Sloan, who was Wilson’s teammate with the Bears. “(With Hershey) we played a lot of lengthy seasons and had some short summers, and it’s the same way it is here in Milwaukee.”
In his final year with the Washington Capitals organization, Wilson fulfilled a lifelong goal of playing in the National Hockey League. The then rookie center made his first NHL game with the Caps a memorable one by picking up a pair of assists as Washington smoked Colorado 6-1 on December 15.
After dressing in two games with the Capitals in 2009-2010, Wilson earned playing time in 32 more NHL games following seasons with Columbus. On October 25 Wilson scored his first NHL goal in the Blue Jackets 2-1 win over Philadelphia, and then three nights later added a goal and an assist in Columbus’ 3-2 shootout victory over Edmonton.
“It’s a faster game so you have to learn to react quicker to play at that level,” said Wilson of his past NHL experiences. “In the American League you have work hard on your basic skills like skating faster, shooting harder and making quicker decisions, so you’re a better player during you’re next NHL opportunity.”
Looking for more chances to play at the next level, the 26-year-old signed a two-way contract with the Nashville Predators during the offseason.
“When players sign two-way contracts they are looking for situations that offer the best chance to play in the NHL,” Wilson said. “That’s what I focused on this summer and Nashville (represented that).”
So far this season Wilson earned one five-game stint in the NHL, failing to record a point during his time with the Predators. Back down at Milwaukee, the veteran forward continues to list amongst the AHL’s elite. Through 56 games with the Admirals, Wilson ranks second on the team behind Chris Mueller with 18 goals and 44 points, while playing to a plus one rating.
“Kyle’s a very good, versatile hockey player, who can play anywhere from your top line to a depth position,” Nashville assistant general manager Paul Fenton said. “We depend on him more in an offensive role in the AHL, but when he plays up in Nashville, we put him in a more responsible checking line role.”
That versatility makes Wilson an invaluable part of the Predators organization.
“Our coaches are looking to rely on him and have trust in him,” Fenton said. “They do, (so) at some point he will get another opportunity to play (in the NHL).”
Unfortunately, Wilson’s all around efforts have yet to translate into wins on the ice for Milwaukee like they did during his four years with Hershey. That’s something Wilson and his teammates are trying to change during this season’s final 14 games as the Admirals attempt a late run at the franchise’s tenth straight playoff berth.
“From here on out it’s basically playoffs,” Wilson said. “Every game we lose from now on could be the end of us, so we have to come together as a team and find that feeling where everyone is working hard and working together as one unit.”