by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
This has been a painful start to the season for Milwaukee Admirals rookie forward Colin Wilson.
A slow break from the gate, an early demotion from Nashville and fear of impending surgery all tinged his first couple months cloudy gray.
And that was the small stuff.
You want real problems, real hurt, try skating with the sensation of a knife jabbing your lower abdomen with every stride. Wait, it gets better. How about four injections into the always delicate thigh, groin and stomach areas?
Sort of makes the rest of the season seem like a sitcom by comparison.
"You get a little distracted," understated Wilson, 20. "A lot of questions were answered (since). It allowed me to concentrate on hockey. It’s feeling good now, so that’s all that matters. I’m really just starting out my season."
It’s been a modest debut for Wilson, taken by Nashville No. 7 overall in the 2008 draft. He produced one goal and one assist in 10 games for the Preds, and has 4-7-11 in 23 games for Milwaukee.
The more revealing mini-run might be his last six games heading into last weekend, though. Finally free of pain and a foreboding sense of what might lurk around the corner, Wilson got on a small roll with two goals and three assists.
"Since I’ve been down here, at the very beginning, it was a different mindset," he said of early concern about his immediate future. "I’m starting to get focused. The last six games, I’m starting to play my game. I’m starting to realize the part of my game that’s most important is to generate offense."
It’s hard to dispute that assessment. Wilson was a Hobey Baker hat trick finalist and helped Boston University to the national title last year with a points total (55) and an assists accumulation (38) that were both second in the country.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Wilson has been a money player for awhile. He was named the United States’ most outstanding player at the 2009 World Juniors after contributing nine points (3-6) in six games. He was also the lone college player on Team USA at the 2009 World Championships in Switzerland.
"I think when you end up winning (at BU), you realize that’s what you play for," he said. "You want to do well (individually). But when we won that national championship, I’ve never felt better. I think wherever I am at the end of (this) season, having those pressure situations, I’m going to understand that pressure."
For the past few years, Wilson has been nagged by the on-again, off-again pain in his groin. He’s usually been able to shake it off, but it was problematic and persistent when he was with Nashville. He was diagnosed with a nerve problem, which, in its worst episodes, caused the muscles in his groin and abdomen to spasm.
"All the quickness had to leave my game," he said. "That’s the luck of the draw. My first year pro, that’s when it decided to act up."
Wilson missed three weeks with the Predators, then, after returning, was sent to the Admirals. It was all but certain that he was headed for surgery, but before reaching that option his doctor decided to inject a numbing agent that sometimes alleviates the problem on its own.
The good news was that, indeed, the agony was relieved to the extent that Wilson can avoid surgery for now. The short-term cost was four shots around the nerve area that were every bit as excruciating as they sound.
"As painful as it was, I just kept telling myself this is what’s best for me," Wilson said.
Wilson has the background to take a cognitive approach to the situation. His grandfather, Jerry, was an orthopedic surgeon. His father, Carey, studied pre-med at Dartmouth. Colin thought about following that path at BU, but decided that the big-time hockey/pre-med balance was a little too much.
Either way, Colin was covered in terms of a support group. Both Jerry and Carey were former NHLers, with Carey skating in 552 games in that league.
"They are really proud of me. Any time my grandpa talks he says I’m better than he was or better than my dad," Colin said.
And does dad concur with that opinion?
"I don’t think he’s around to defend himself," Colin said. "That’s what keeps it away from a huge argument."
Colin is making a forceful case for himself on that issue, according to Admirals coach Lane Lambert.
"There’s definitely a lot of talent there. The nice thing about it is it’s a powerful talent," Lambert said. "There’s no question he’s strong enough to play in the NHL right now. He’s at his best when he’s playing with an edge, driving people off the puck. The numbers are the thing that people are going to look at, those things will come. There is some rawness, but there is a tremendous gift there."
Most people recognize that and want to see it flourish in a timely fashion fitting for such a high draft pick. Wilson said he sometimes gets bogged down in pondering those expectations.
"There’s obviously added pressure. I want to put up numbers," he said. "It’s definitely made it a little more stressful. The microscope is going to be on a top-10 pick a little more. It was a little harder when I wasn’t playing my game."
The memories of that limitation are fading as each healthy shift distances Wilson from a start worth forgetting.
"It seems like a long time ago. But at that time, the days seemed like weeks when I couldn’t play," he said. "Now, the days are starting to go by much quicker. I know I’m back and ready to get going."
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.