Wayne’s World: Simmonds Embracing Scoring Role in the City of Brotherly Love

Photo Courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)

Play physical defense. Face top competition. And chip in with the occasional goal or assist. Those were the duties of Wayne Simmonds during his first three NHL seasons as a member of the Los Angeles Kings.

The Philadelphia Flyers, on the other hand, see Simmonds as a far different player.

In his first campaign as a member of the Flyers, Wayne Simmonds has achieved career highs in both goals (27) and points (48), with three games yet to play in the regular season. It has undoubtedly been his most productive offensive season as a professional.

“I came in and wanted to be a lot better offensively than last year,” said Simmonds, referring to his disappointing 2010-11 season when he scored only 14 goals and 30 total points.

The Flyers have done everything in their power to facilitate his development into a legitimate scoring threat.

Simmonds’ former team, the Los Angeles Kings, clearly viewed him as a checking winger, giving him tough assignments against top lines and minimal power play time. But the Flyers have deployed Simmonds in a different way entirely. In fact, Simmonds has been used almost exclusively as a scoring winger in Philadelphia.

“I think that since I came here I wanted to prove my worth and [Laviolette] has put me in ideal situations offensively all season,” Simmonds noted after being named NHL Player of the Week on Monday. “I’m just trying to take those situations and do the best I possibly can and things turned out perfectly for me this year.”

It begins with his linemates. In 2010-11, Simmonds’ most frequent linemate was Michal Handzus, a hardworking checking line center (and a former fan favorite in Philadelphia), but far from a feared scorer.

Simmonds’ most frequent linemate in Philadelphia? The offensively-gifted Daniel Briere.

In addition to spending substantial time with an established scorer, Simmonds has also seen a drastic reduction in the overall difficulty of his shifts. While Simmonds led all Kings’ forwards last season in CorsiRel Quality of Competition, a statistic that tracks the difficulty of a player’s even strength shifts, he ranks 11th on the Flyers in 2011-12, ahead of only rookie Brayden Schenn.

Simmonds has also started far more of his shifts in the offensive zone this season. In 2010-11, Simmonds took only 49.5% of his non-neutral zone faceoffs in the offensive zone. This season, that number has jumped to 57.7%.

But the factor that has contributed the most to Simmonds’ offensive breakout has been his success on the power play.

“I never really played power play before this year and I think that’s helped out a lot,” Simmonds admitted.

The Kings neglected to utilize Simmonds on special teams, giving him only 0:50 seconds of power play time per game in 2010-11. But in Philadelphia, Simmonds has become a power play regular, receiving 3:10 minutes per game on the man advantage.

The results? Ten power play goals and fifteen power play points. He has wreaked havok all season in the crease area, screening goaltenders, collecting loose rebounds, and taking full advantage of his 6-2, 183 pound frame.

“I think he’s in his best spot in front of the net,” Peter Laviolette said.

“He’s not afraid to wrestle big guys and take some abuse. He does a good job of controlling his temper because it can get hot in that area. It’s a hard area to get to and he does a good job of maintaining his focus and able to get his stick down and make plays.”

Simmonds’ even strength numbers this season are actually comparable to his numbers from 2010-11. Removing the power play points from his overall statistics, the young forward would stand at 17 goals and 16 assists for 33 points – only a three point increase from his final season in Los Angeles. The power play has been the main cause of Simmonds’ offensive breakout.

The Flyers’ front office and coaching staff recognized that Simmonds’ skill set would translate well on special teams, extracting added value from the forward that the Kings had surprisingly missed. Simmonds has been a godsend for the Flyers’ power play, helping Philadelphia jump from a mediocre 19th in 2010-11 to a stellar 5th this season.

Simmonds clearly relishes his new role as offensive weapon. But he also credits Laviolette’s fast-paced system for his success in 2011-12.

“We push forward more in Philly than in LA, where we kind of sit back in the trap. I think this style of game suits me better.”

Through favorable matchups and increased power play time, the Flyers have allowed Simmonds to tap into his inner scorer. And they surely have been satisfied with the results.

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