|Second-year forward Wayne Simmonds leads the Kings in plus-minus (plus-7), ranks third on the team in goals, drops the gloves when needed and turns in consistently strong efforts as perhaps the Kings' best defensive forward.
To look at Wayne Simmonds in the summer of 2007, and see a future NHL player, required a leap of faith. Simmonds
had the requisite heart and speed, but it appeared as though his hockey gear might weigh more than he did. So thin were his legs that one worried he might topple if he leaned too far in one direction.
A second-round pick of the Kings in 2007, Simmonds was all about hustle, energy and work ethic, the very definition of a "project" player. Well, the project isn't quite complete yet, but in two years, Simmonds has made staggering progress, to the point that he's clearly one of the Kings' most valuable players this season.
"One of my buddies, Anthony Stewart, plays with Chicago (of the AHL)," Simmonds said. "I train with him every summer, and this summer he said, `Holy cow, you're a lot better than you were last year.' I said, `Thanks.' I didn't know how to take it, but I guess it's just a general progression. You learn, and when you play more games you're going to get smarter and learn how the league works."
What does Simmonds do? Only lead the Kings in plus-minus (plus-7), rank third on the team in goals, drop the gloves when needed and turn in consistently strong efforts as perhaps the Kings' best defensive forward.
Simmonds carried a three-game goal-scoring streak into Tuesday's game at Anaheim and, one-third of the way through his second NHL season, has yet to miss a game. It's easy to assume that, given his light weight, Simmonds might be an injury risk, but then again, it's pretty hard to hit a moving target.
Very rarely, during a game, is Simmonds stationary. If he's on the puck, he's moving it, even if it means trying to push the puck past a defender, along the boards, and muscle past the defender. If he's off the puck, he's going to the net or generally doing a good job of creating havoc for the opposing team.
That's a product of work ethic, which endears Simmonds to fans, coaches and teammates.
"I'm seeing a hockey player emerge, that's what I'm seeing," coach Terry Murray said. "It goes to, why do players take it to the next level? How do they become NHL players? Well, you have to have, obviously, some qualifiers to get here, to be given the opportunity. Then it comes down to hard work.
"Simmer, from the first day that I saw him, in the development camp a year ago, he was out of the ice and he's having fun but he's working hard. I think, right now, he's making the hard work a part of his lifestyle. That ends up bringing all that other stuff out, the decisions, the quality plays that he's making, the awareness that he has. You have to give him a lot of credit for staying with it and working as hard as he has."
The Kings saw something in Simmonds that many others missed. After two seasons of lower-level junior hockey, Simmonds played the 2006-07 season at the Major Junior level for the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League and generated 23 goals, 26 assists and 112 penalty minutes in 66 games.
Those aren't standout numbers, and as the 2007 entry draft approached, Simmonds didn't even crack the list of players ranked by NHL Central Scouting. Eyebrows were certainly raised, then, when the Kings selected Simmonds in the second round of the draft, with the No. 61 overall pick.
Continue to Part II