Addition of veterans has Simmonds eager for season

Monday, 07.15.2013 / 9:44 AM
Mike Brophy  - Correspondent

TORONTO -- When the Philadelphia Flyers missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for just the second time since 1993-94, you just knew changes were coming.

It's an organization that never has displayed much patience when it comes to failure.

So it was no surprise that the Flyers acquired veteran defenseman Mark Streit from the New York Islanders and signed former Philadelphia goaltender Ray Emery from the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. The crowning jewel -- the Flyers hope -- was the signing of unrestricted free-agent center Vincent Lecavalier, the former captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was bought out by the Lightning earlier this month.

If the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Lecavalier, who has been slowed by nagging injuries the past few seasons, can find his game, it will be quite a coup for the Flyers, who have already offensive weapons in Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn and Kimmo Timonen.

While Emery and Streit also could be significant contributors to the Flyers, Simmonds particularly is thrilled by the addition of Lecavalier.

"It's unbelievable," Simmonds said Saturday. "Honestly, he captained his team to the Stanley Cup in '04 and he's been a great player in this League for a long time. I'm so happy to get the opportunity to play alongside him. He's got a lot of knowledge about the game."

Simmonds was speaking at his annual Wayne's Road Hockey Warriors charity ball-hockey tournament and celebrity game in his hometown of Scarborough, Ontario. Simmonds, along with some NHL pals -- among them Drew Doughty, Joel Ward, Chris Stewart, Anthony Stewart, Devante Smith-Pelly and Zac Rinaldo -- helped raise money to assist underprivileged youth that otherwise would not be able to afford to play hockey.

For Simmonds, who is 24 and heading into his sixth NHL season, the chance to play with seasoned veterans is something he cherishes.

"When I was in [Los Angeles], I played behind Ryan Smith and Michel Handzus on the power play and those guys played the front of the net," Simmonds said. "I tried to learn by watching them. Then, when we got Jaromir Jagr in Philly, I sat beside him in the room and I was lucky enough to be able to pick his brain. Now with Vinny coming in, he's got a great hockey mind and I'm looking forward to seeing what I can learn from him. For a guy like me, it's always nice to get to pick the older guys' minds in terms of what they think about the game and what they think about my game to see how I can improve."

Simmonds finished second on the Flyers last season with 15 goals and was third with 32 points in 45 games. Those numbers prorated for an 82-game schedule result in 27 goals -- one shy of his single-season high of 28 in 2011-12 -- and 58 points, which would have been a career-best. With each passing season, the scrappy 6-foot-2, 185-pound right wing becomes more important to the Flyers.

He is a legitimate top-six skater that feels he has more to offer.

"I think I need to add more in terms of being a leader on the team," Simmonds said. "I try to lead by example for the most part. I go out and work as hard as I possibly can and hopefully that rubs off on the others. If things need to be said, I think I'm at the point in my career where I can step up and be heard and guys will actually take it in."

With Simmonds only beginning to enter the prime of his career, it would not be out of line to suggest the best is yet to come. Nevertheless, he has earned the respect of those who play against him.

"Wow, what a competitor," longtime friend Joel Ward of the Washington Capitals said. "He's a big dude, obviously, and he can do it all. He's the complete player -- he can score, he can hit, he can fight. He's your typical power forward and I think a lot of guys would love to have him on their team. He brings it every night. The thing about Wayne is, he's such a great guy of the ice. If you don't know him you might think he's just a pain in the butt, but he's well-liked by everybody."

Fans in Philadelphia will not stand for a losing team, and Simmonds knows that as well as anyone. In fact, he said it is the attitude of the fans that should motivate players to be their best at all times. Some players find it difficult to take the pressure of playing in Philadelphia while others thrive.

"I don't find it bad at all," Simmonds said of playing in Philadelphia. "I give 100 percent every day whether its practice or a game and I think the fans really appreciate that. Philly is a blue-collar town and everybody works for what they have. That's what I try to bring to my game and I think the fans appreciate that."

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