Tommy Wingels is known for laying big hits on the ice, and never passing up an opportunity to make physical contact with an opponent.
Over the weekend, the 26-year-old forward hit it big another way, signing his first major NHL contract. Wingels and the Sharks agreed to a three-year, $7.4 million deal that will pay him approximately $2.47 million annually starting in 2014-15.
As general manager Doug Wilson has stated countless times, he’s ready to hand the team over to the younger players. For the foreseeable future, Wingels is now firmly a part of that core group that also features Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl among others.
“I’m very excited about committing to the Sharks organization for three more years. I’m humbled by the opportunity that Doug Wilson has given me,” Wingels said on a conference call Tuesday from Florida, where he’s getting married on Saturday. “I think this team can do a lot of special things, and I look forward to being a part of that.”
Wilson said: “Tommy epitomizes exactly what we’re looking for in a player.”
Wingels has not only grown as a player since breaking into the NHL full time for the lockout shortened 2013 season, he’s progressively become more of a team leader in other ways.
When Dustin Brown returned to SAP Center for the first time after kneeing Hertl, for example, it was Wingels who challenged the Kings’ captain multiple times to drop the gloves. Whenever he ends up on the injured list, it’s a certainty that Wingels will do all he can to get back into the lineup as quickly as possible.
It’s not difficult to see Wingels developing into more of a leadership role, perhaps in the mold as former Sharks forward Ryane Clowe - someone that holds teammates accountable, talks a big game, and backs up his words with his actions.
That’s not something Wingels would shy away from, either.
“Being a leader is something that I definitely take pride in,” he said. “The more I play the more secure I get in this league. You learn more and more about yourself.”
Wilson, who has overtly stated the Sharks need a culture change, said: “We talk about the leadership group being spread out to all players, so all 23 of them take a slice of this, but he’s a guy that historically – and by the way he plays the game – is certainly important for this phase of where we’re going.”
Of course, there is always room for improvement. While Wingels’ 16 goal, 38 point season was easily the best in his still blossoming career, placing him sixth on the team in scoring, his offensive production fizzled late. He went 10 games without a point from March 13-29, and had just one goal in the final 23 games of the regular season and playoffs.
When asked what he could work on heading into his third full NHL season, Wingels mentioned his overall strength before anything else.
“I think I can get better in a lot of areas. Getting stronger. I think that’s something I have to be, strong so my body can maintain that physical style throughout a whole season,” he said.
The Evanston, Illinois native said there were two big reasons he chose to commit to San Jose for three of the prime years of his career.
“I think we have a great group of guys in the locker room. … I like the guys around the ice rink and I like them outside of the ice rink,” he said.
“Am I part of an organization that will do anything to win? I know that without a doubt I am, from the ownership, to Doug Wilson, to the coaching staff,” he said.
Wingels isn’t fazed, either, by Wilson’s stated plan of taking one step backwards next season in order to take two forward.
“As a player, you’re committed to your team, and you’re committed to whatever decisions the general manager makes. I’m fully on board with whatever he decides to do," Wingels said.
Getting Wingels locked up was surely one of his easier decisions.