Inside the Flyers: Simmonds has blossomed into a Flyers cornerstone

Posted: February 03, 2014

LOS ANGELES - Wayne Simmonds' transformation - from a checking-line winger with Los Angeles to one of the NHL's most productive players recently with the Flyers - is what general manager Paul Holmgren foresaw when he made the stunning deal with the Kings in 2011.

Holmgren has made his share of questionable moves in recent years, with the trade that sent James van Riemsdyk to Toronto for Luke Schenn at the top of the forgettable list.

But he got it right when he acquired Simmonds and the blossoming Brayden Schenn for captain Mike Richards.  Simmonds returned to Los Angeles for the first time since the trade Saturday and scored his team-high 18th goal. Schenn has 14, and Richards has just seven.  

 "We knew when we made the trade we were taking a step back to take two steps forward - and that's what has happened," Ed Snider, chairman of the Flyers' parent company, Comcast-Spectacor, said after the Flyers' 2-0 win over the Kings on Saturday. "We felt they were young and would get better and better."  

Simmonds, 25, always had the speed and tenacity, but he has improved his play around the net and on the perimeter and has become a Flyers cornerstone.

Entering Saturday, Simmonds had collected 23 points in the last six weeks. Only eight NHL players - including marquee forwards Sidney Crosby (28), John Tavares (27), Claude Giroux (25), and Ryan Getzlaf (24) - had more points than Simmonds in that span.

In his three years with the Kings, Simmonds was a complementary player, a third-line winger who played about 14 minutes a game.

His role - and his playing time - has expanded greatly with the Flyers. He is the team's second-line winger on a line with Schenn and Vinny Lecavalier, and he is also used on the power play.

"This is my sixth year in the league, and when you're younger, things move a little too quickly," Simmonds, who is averaging about 161/2 minutes a game, said a few days ago. "Your mind's kind of racing, and everything is just a blur."

But with almost six years of experience, the game has become easier for the good-natured Ontario native. Playing his position comes more naturally, and having been familiar with Schenn's game since their L.A. days has also made the analytical winger more comfortable in his role.

"They've played a lot of hockey together," coach Craig Berube said, "so the chemistry is obviously there."

The 6-foot-2, 183-pound Simmonds says his game has improved simply because of the maturation process.

"As you get older, I think things start to slow down," he said. "You start to realize that you can do things if you take your time and don't panic all the time. I think that's the case for me. I'm starting to learn things I can do and things I can't."

Simmonds scored a career-high 28 goals in his first season with the Flyers, then had 15 in the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. This season, he's on pace for 26.

"Simmer's turning more into a power forward," Berube said. "He's using his speed a lot more, skating with the puck, going on the forecheck to get it. He's always been a good player around the net and always scored a lot of goals around the net, but I think his play from our end out - breakouts, and skating and carrying the puck - has improved. And I think his game is evolving in coming down the wing and shooting pucks, too."

His numbers have improved dramatically over his first three seasons in Los Angeles, where he averaged 13 goals.

"It's a completely different role than I had in L.A.," Simmonds said. "In L.A., I was counted on as a checking forward. In Philly, I'm looked to score goals and take the body and play physical. I've accepted that role."

Simmonds has embraced his job description with the Flyers. And while his play on the wing has improved, Simmonds still seems to have an affinity to playing down low. His office.

"It's a nice role," he said, smiling. "The puck's got to get to the front of the net before it goes in the net, right? So I might as well just meet it there for tips and rebounds. It's a tough area to play, and I like doing it. I like my job."

It shows.

Inside the Flyers: Looking Back at Big Trades

For the first time since they were traded in separate 2011 deals, the Kings' Jeff Carter and Mike Richards faced the Flyers together Saturday. Here are the players that were involved in those deals - Richards went to L.A., Carter originally went to Columbus - and their statistics this season entering Saturday:

Carter trade

   G   A   Pts.   +/-   

Jeff Carter   20   14   34   4   

Jake Voracek   14   24   38   -1   

Sean Couturier   9   16   25   -4   

Nick Cousins (in AHL)   4   9   13   -5   

Richards trade

   G   A   Pts.   +/-   

Mike Richards   7   28   35   -3   

Wayne Simmonds   17   21   38   -4   

Brayden Schenn   14   17   31   2   

The Flyers also received a second-round pick for Richards, which they used as part of a trade to acquire Nick Grossmann.

- Sam Carchidi

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