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An Energizing Force

by Brian Smith | / Philadelphia Flyers

For his entire career, Wayne Simmonds has been one of those players whose attributes read like something you’d find at Lowes. When coaches say things about a player that sometimes sound strange like “sandpaper,” “grit,” and “nails,” Simmonds is often the type of player they’re talking about.

Usually when people evaluate a hockey player, they’ll look at the basics – goals, assists, penalty minutes, plus-minus, and other traditional statistics. Then there’s what’s known as the “intangibles” – things that often don’t show up in those statistical categories and can’t necessarily be measured.

The unique thing about Simmonds is that he brings both to a lineup. He’s been within an eyelash of 30 goals in each of the last four seasons – 28, 29 and 28 in each of the last three full years, and an equivalent 15 in 48 games in the shortened 2012-13 campaign. He had 50 points last year, and 60 points the year before that.

Then there’s those intangibles. For instance, Simmonds received heaps of credit from Claude Giroux for both of Shayne Gostisbehere’s first two NHL goals – not because he set them up with a nifty assist, because he didn’t get a point on either of them. What he did do on both occasions was get in front of the net and screen the opposing goaltender, enduring a significant physical battle to do so. That’s the type of thing that doesn’t show up in any statistic, but has been invaluable to the Flyers’ recent run of success.

“For me to be effective, it’s not always coming down to point totals,” Simmonds said. “I think I’ve got to be a little bit of a crap-disturber out there – go to the net, give a couple guys some pokes here and there, and get things stirred up and going. The more I do that, the better I get. It helps me get into the game and I think it helps our team as well.”

Both sides of Simmonds’s game were on display on Friday night in a chippy affair with the New Jersey Devils – the scoring side, as he picked up his fourth goal in a three-game stretch, and the sandpaper side, as he engaged fellow “crap-disturber” Jordin Tootoo in pleasantries that may not have shown up on the scoresheet (aside from coincidental minors), but definitely energized the Flyers bench late in an important game.

“He’s a passionate guy,” said Flyers defenseman Nick Schultz. “When he has something to say, he says it, and guys respect it and respond to him. That’s why he’s wearing a letter on this team. The way he plays on the ice, I think guys respond to that and see the type of effort that he puts in. It’s contagious if your leader is out there playing that way, playing hard and sticking up for teammates and battling, guys respect that.”

Schultz knows a thing or two about that sort of thing, having served as both a captain and alternate during his 10 seasons with the Minnesota Wild. Schultz and the Wild were in Los Angeles once to play the Kings when he saw Simmonds drop the gloves with Minnesota’s Eric Nystrom, who had the advantage of ten pounds and years of experience.

“Natty was a really tough guy, and Simmer was early in his career,” Schultz recalled. [Simmonds is] a slight guy, like his build and stuff, but the strength that he has and toughness that he has, and the way he plays the game and competes and battles – he can fight and score and do a lot of things. It’s hard to play against a guy like him. There’s not many guys who have the ability to play that way – to hit, to fight, to score, and to do a lot of things.”

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol echoed a lot of those sentiments. When the Flyers were going through their stretch in early November when nothing was going in, Hakstol and the Flyers were preaching the need to do the little things like get pucks to the net, get to the front of the net, and create as many chances as they could. Hakstol said Simmonds was one of the guys who started accomplishing that, and the team followed his lead.

“He’s elevated his game as a true power forward over the last few weeks,” Hakstol said. “It’s really been a boost to our team. Some of the things that we were struggling with a few weeks ago, he’s been one of the guys that has led us out of it. He’s been very consistent in those gritty little areas, and that’s been important.

“[He’s valuable] not just because he plays hard shift in and shift out and plays that physical power brand, but also he has a presence out there. He’s earned that respect over his years in the league, and I know he brings confidence to the guys on our bench.”

While those intangibles might not be the things people focus on, and as such might be a bit underappreciated, they are the very fabric of the type of player Simmonds is – and will continue to be in the future. In order for those noticeable things like goals to come, the other things need to be there as well.

“That part of my game’s always been the same,” he said. “I came into the league as a guy who was more of a checking-type forward that would agitate and fight. I’ve always had that part to my game, and I always feel if I don’t bring that to my game – if I try to be too pretty and don’t try to play with grit or tenacity, that’s when I know I’m not playing my best hockey.”

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