Wayne Simmonds had to keep telling himself he — and rookie Brayden Schenn — weren’t brought here to replace Mike Richards. Easier said than done.
But gradually the gritty right wing with a penchant for scoring those critical “dirty” goals has made his presence felt. Even better, he’s discovered he really likes it here.
“I think the change of scenery helped me out a little bit,” said the 23-year-old Simmonds, who’s already established a career high with 18 goals — third best on the team — and is nearing his career high 40 points with still 26 games to go, following last night’s 4-3 loss at the hands of the white-hot Red Wings.
“I played my first three years of my career in L.A. and obviously I loved it there, but when I realized I was coming to Philadelphia, I talked to a lot of people,” he continued. “I found out this is a first class organization. I'm happy right now. Everything about Philly I love. I'm in a really good spot right now.”
In addition to being the consummate grinder, the rugged 6-foot-2, 183-pound Scarborough, Ontario, native has provided toughness and persistence at both ends of the ice. Once he realized he’d been brought here for precisely those reasons, the transition from laid-back L.A to blue-collar Philadelphia began to take hold.
“You try not to think about, but obviously you think about it,’’ admitted Simmonds. “Me and Schenner got traded for the team’s captain. That’s a good feeling. The way I thought about it was they traded for me for a reason. Obviously they liked what they saw in my game. So I haven’t changed anything in my game. I’m still physical. I still go to the net. Things have been working out.”
Not only that, but Simmonds has quickly become a hero within the black community, going out to conduct clinics in the inner city and preaching the hockey gospel to kids who never considered it an option.
“People ask ‘What do you do?’’’ he said. “I say ‘I play hockey.’ ‘So you’re Simmonds. You’re that guy.’
“I like to go out and greet the fans. If there were a lot more African-Americans in the stands, that would be great.”
He’s certainly doing his part to make that happen and also keep the struggling Flyers in contention at the same time. Or put it this way:
Nobody’s asking to bring Mike Richards back anytime soon.
Fitting right in
The trade of Mike Richards was met with much skepticism from Flyers fans. Wayne Simmonds and
Brayden Schenn, the two players they got in return for the immensely popular former captain, have
silenced the doubters:
Simmonds and Brayden Schenn have combined for 45 points, with Simmonds tallying 34 of those.
Richards, meanwhile, has managed just 14 goals and 13 assists in 48 games for the Kings, who sit in seventh place in the NHL’s Western Conference.