The wait wasn’t long, but it was intense. That first hour must have felt like an entire day stranded in the middle of the Mojave Desert with no water in sight.
Colin Wilson knew it was coming. It was the anticipation of when that killed him. While sitting around Scotiabank Place during the 2008 NHL Draft, the Boston University star forward feared the worst. Wilson had seen other highly rated prospects plummet pick after pick, round after round, past drafts and the current version.
Even though he had been given a vote of confidence the previous day from Paul Fenton – the Nashville Predators assistant general manager, who also played at BU nearly three decades ago – Wilson wanted to hear his name get called before allowing himself to exhale. Fenton and Wilson had a brief history together due to their common thread as Terriers (Wilson was coming off a freshman season in which he had 12 goals and 23 assists for 35 points, the third most on the team, and he was the Hockey East Rookie of the Year), and Fenton had mentioned the Predators were thinking of trading up from the ninth spot to draft Wilson.
Sure enough, Nashville moved up to grab Wilson with the seventh pick, making him the only college player taken in the first round in the process. When the two bumped into each other in a hallway later on draft day, Fenton simply told him, “I wasn’t lying.”
“It was obviously a really outstanding process,” Wilson said of the draft. “I was real nervous. Although I was ranked high, there were two players who dropped quite a bit. I just didn’t want to be that guy. It was a real big relief being called by Nashville.”
It was the latest step toward Wilson’s lifelong dream of playing in the National Hockey League. And for him, “lifelong” isn’t the slightest exaggeration. His father is Carey Wilson, who had 169 goals and 258 assists during a 10-year NHL career with the Calgary Flames, Hartford Whalers and New York Rangers. And Carey’s father, Jerry Wilson, played in three games for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1950s before becoming the team doctor for the Winnipeg Jets. With hockey in Colin Wilson’s blood, it was merely a matter of time before the ice was in his veins.
“I just remember there was a picture of me when I was a kid; I always had this [hockey] stick that they had to tape up the whole thing because I kept hitting everybody with it,” Wilson said. “I think that’s when I was 2 or something like that. I’ve pretty much had a hockey stick in my hand since I was born.”
The advantages of having a father who had such a prolific professional career are often incalculable, but Colin Wilson knew almost instantly he had an advantage over other kids his age. He could see certain plays before they happened and knew how to attack the net with more of a strategy than those around him.
It also helped that Carey Wilson wasn’t too proud to point out his flaws, which gave him the ability to teach Colin how to be a more well-rounded player. While Carey’s scoring prowess was unquestioned, he wished he could have been more physical. He told Colin to play as more of a power forward, crash the net and win every battle around the ice.
While Colin Wilson’s development as an elite forward was in full throttle, he was faced with his first major decision, which resulted in him leaving his home in Winnipeg for the U.S. National Development Program. He had grown used to moving, even if he didn’t quite realize it. His father was traded a few times at the end of his career – while Colin was barely a toddler – so the family moved from New York to Calgary and finally back to Winnipeg, where Colin’s parents grew up and then re-settled after Carey retired. (Interestingly, Colin had been under the impression he was born in New York until he was 15 years old, when he found out he had actually been born in Greenwich, Conn.) This was another difference between Colin and Carey, who played for the Canadian team in the 1980s, but Colin’s allegiance always remained to the south.
“It’s always nice to be a little different than everybody else as a kid,” the younger Wilson said. “To be able to say I was American was something I always took a lot of pride in. I could go against all the kids and cheer for them, so I enjoyed doing that.”
After a few wildly successful years with the U.S. NTDP teams, Wilson set his sights on the college game, which was always a priority to his father, who played at Dartmouth College. Colin Wilson had narrowed his list to four schools – North Dakota, Colorado College, Denver and Boston University – but he was drawn to Boston and Jack Parker.
Wilson’s rookie season at BU got off to a slow start, to say the least. As he was on draft night, he was overcome by nerves before each game, not knowing whether or not he could find his way onto the score sheet or if the Terriers would be victorious. On top of that, he was thinking about his draft status, which also hurt his game.
“It’s something that I obviously talked to coaches about because they could see that I was worrying too much about whether or not I was going to score or get a good start,” Wilson said. “Coach talked to me, told me I needed to calm down.”
Then, he dominated the World Juniors with a tournament-high six goals, and he returned to Comm. Ave. with the swagger that helped him so much earlier in his career. Wilson got off to a flying start in the second half of the college season, and his emergence directly correlated with BU’s turnaround from a terrible first half. He recorded three game-winning goals and was named Hockey East Rookie of the Month in February, when the Terriers went on a seven-game winning streak to help vault them into second place in the league standings. But, BU was eliminated in the Hockey East semifinals and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.
Despite Wilson’s draft status just a couple months after the end of the team’s disappointing season, he felt an immediate desire to return to school. So far, that decision is impossible to second-guess. He has five goals and seven assists, and his 12 points are tied for the Hockey East lead. What’s more, his 1.71 points per game are tied for third in the nation, and Boston University is 6-1-0 overall, ranked No. 1 in the country and tied for second in Hockey East with a 3-1-0 record.
The Terriers’ last victory can be directly tied to Wilson, who had two goals and two assists during a 6-4 comeback win at UMass Lowell last Friday. The Terriers trailed 3-1 in the second period before Wilson scored to make it 3-2, assisted on Chris Higgins’ goal that tied the game 4-4 with 2:14 to play in the third period and potted the game-winner with 15 seconds remaining. Just like that, Wilson has displayed an ability to provide the firepower for an offense that ranks second in the country with 4.71 goals per game.
While those marks likely have the Predators salivating over their future star, Wilson maintains he’ll hold all decisions regarding his future until after this season. So far, he’s proven he knows what he’s doing when mapping out his career. There’s no reason to think that will change down the road.
“It wasn’t all that difficult,” Wilson said of his decision to return for his sophomore season. “I knew a couple days after the draft what I wanted to do, but it took me awhile to announce it because I wanted to sit on it and make sure it was the right decision. When it came down to it, I knew that BU would be the place where I could develop most. At the same time, I wasn’t all that happy with how last season went, and I wanted to win this season. So far, that’s the way it’s going.”