Throughout the 2014-15 season, Simon played in the Czech Extraliga for HC Plzen, appeared in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships for Team Czech Republic alongside Jaromir Jagr and heard his name called by the Pittsburgh Penguins as the team’s fifth-round pick (No. 137 overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Drafted as an over-aged player (20 years old at the time of the draft), Simon came on as a late bloomer internationally. At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, the Czech native put up 18 goals and 12 assists in 52 Extraliga games last season while playing against guys who were older and much more experienced compared to him. That only increased as Simon skated in a top-six role, teaming up with Jagr, Jakub Voracek, Tomas Hertl and Tomas Plekanec for Team Czech Republic in the WC, which was held in Prague and Ostrava, Czech Republic during the month of May.
That’s a lot of hockey for anyone, including a 20-year-old.
“It was a big year for me,” said Simon, whose HC Plzen team is owned by former Penguin Martin Straka. “I got to play in the World Championships, which was cool. It was a bit of a rough start, and we (HC Plzen) didn’t make the playoffs, so I went with the national team and I could play with guys like Jaromir Jagr and play on a line with him, which was awesome.”
Skating two games with Jagr on an international stage was a surreal moment for Simon, who grew up watching the former Pens forward carve up the NHL.
“It was great (to play with Jagr),” Simon said. “I was a little bit nervous at the beginning, but the nerves went away when we scored a goal. I wanted to score a goal with him, and we did, so it was incredible.”
Simon earned the secondary assist on Jagr’s goal at the 4:25 mark of the third period in Team Czech Republic’s 5-1 win over France. He finished with one goal and five assists for the Czech Republic.
The breakout on international ice opened some eyes to Simon, who was passed over in the 2014 NHL Draft, but the Pens feel like they’ve found a diamond in the rough with the forward who possesses a good two-way game and is very strong on the puck.
“He is (further along than most guys). He’s 21 - he’s a ’94 birth,” Pens assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “I got a chance to watch him over at the World Championships … His play and his age kind of just jumped out at you.”
With Simon being further along than most prospects in the system, the Pens signed him to an entry-level contract that will bring him over to North America, where the forward will play in the American Hockey League for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
For now though, the 21-year-old is taking it all in during his first career NHL development camp. Arriving in Pittsburgh two days prior to check-in, Simon was able to get out and explore around the city, even taking in one of the hottest sports events in town this summer – the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I was walking through the city and I watched the Pirates game as my first baseball game,” Simon said. “I was surprised; it was so great. I had a lot of fun there and I’m looking forward to my next game. But I think the city is very nice.”
In the not-to-distant future, Simon could make Pittsburgh a permanent home as an impactful forward, but that’s not something he’s concerned with right now. What is at the forefront of his concerns is leaving a lasting impression on the coaching staff during the week-long camp.
“I want to show them everything – the best I’ve got,” Simon said after Tuesday’s afternoon practice. “I will try to do everything the best that I can. I want to show my speed and shot, too.”
The speed, shot and puck skills were on full display during Wednesday’s 3-on-3 tournament, which featured plenty of goals and highlight-reel saves. Simon scored a few goals off of re-directs while driving to the net and even showed off his shot with a wrist shot over the glove hand of Sean Maguire.
He hopes to continue to grow his game at both ends of the ice no matter where he plays, but he isn’t worried about what uniform he plays – he’s just ready for what’s next.
“I’m not sure yet (where I’ll be),” Simon said. “I’m waiting for it (moving to the next level), so we’ll see where I’ll be next. I’m just excited for that next step.”