Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was the assistant GM for the Los Angeles Kings when he first saw forward Wayne Simmonds at a Kings training camp. Hextall admittedly wasn't sure what they had in a player who had been selected in the second round (No. 61) of the 2007 NHL Draft.
"You weren't 100 percent sure he'd play in the NHL," Hextall said, "but you were pretty sure he'd take a hard run at it."
That hard run has turned Simmonds, now in his ninth NHL season and sixth with the Flyers, into arguably the best net-front presence in the League.
"I always knew that if I was given the opportunity I think I could do something a little bit more," Simmonds said.
Simmonds leads the Flyers with nine goals, and his five power-play goals are tied for third in the League, one behind Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber and Buffalo Sabres forward Matt Moulson. Since the 2011-12 season, Simmonds has 64 power-play goals, second in the League behind Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (100).
Simmonds' 141 goals in that span are 14th in the League, and most were scored from not much more than a stick's length from the net. Last season, 16 of his 32 goals were scored from within 10 feet of the net, the most of any player who scored at least 30. This season, four of his first nine goals have come from 10 feet or closer to the net.
Video: WPG@PHI: Simmonds pads lead with rebound goal
He's also averaging 19:37 of ice time per game, most among Flyers forwards. That's exponentially higher than the 13:27 he averaged in a bottom-six role with the Kings in 2010-11.
"When I was in L.A., I aspired to be more than the role I was given," Simmonds said. "Coach [Terry Murray] gave me that role, and I was more than happy just to be in the NHL and be contributing to the team."
Things changed when the Kings traded Simmonds and forward Brayden Schenn to the Flyers for center Mike Richards and forward Rob Bordson on June 23, 2011.
Simmonds didn't need long to make an impression on then Flyers coach Peter Laviolette.
"I think after probably the first month or so into the season my first year as a Flyer, I think I started getting a little bit more even-strength minutes," Simmonds said. "[Laviolette] put me on the first power-play unit, which was a huge boost to my minutes."
This season, Simmonds is making an impact on the penalty kill, something he hadn't done since his first two seasons with the Kings. He's averaging 1:05 of shorthanded ice time per game, fifth among Flyers forwards, had not been on the ice for a power-play goal-against, according to Puckalytics.com, and scored his first NHL shorthanded goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 11.
"I think he's got all the elements of a good penalty-killer," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. "He's an explosive skater, he's got a good stick. He's a tenacious guy that's willing to block shots. … He's becoming an effective guy in that role."
Video: PHI@TOR: Simmonds scores second on shorthanded break
Hakstol said he was concerned the extra hard minutes on the penalty kill could wear Simmonds down, but he's on pace for 39 goals and 69 points, each of which would set personal NHL bests.
"The more you play, generally the more fun you're having," Simmonds said. "I think everyone wants to play as much as they possibly can. I've gotten that opportunity and I've tried to seize it."
Simmonds also has grown into a leader. It's his third season as an alternate captain, a role he sees as vital to the Flyers' success.
"You're setting an example for 23, 24 guys on a daily basis," he said. "I'm trying to be a leader on and off the ice. Just trying to make sure that I am one of the hardest-working guys in this dressing room, if not the hardest-working guy every time I show up to the rink."
The Flyers have six players age 24 or younger on the roster. If they're going to use any player as a role model, Hextall wants it to be Simmonds.
Video: PHI@TOR: Simmonds redirects shot into the net for PPG
"The more players that you have that young players look to when they get here, watch and try to emulate, the better," Hextall said. "[Simmonds] is one of those guys. You've got young players coming in, you want them to look at Wayne."
Those players have taken notice.
"He's the perfect hockey player," said center Nick Cousins, 23. "He's a big body, can skate well, he's got good skill, good around the net. He's one of our leaders in the locker room that I look up to as a younger guy. … If he doesn't like something or something's not right in his mind, he'll pipe up and say something. At the same time he goes about his business every day. He's a true pro."