Flyers

Wayne Simmonds returns to where it all began in first All-Star appearance

Wayne Simmonds returns to where it all began in first All-Star appearance

It took the better part of nine seasons for Wayne Simmonds to become an NHL All-Star.

Once a very raw rookie with the Los Angeles Kings, he will make his way back to the city where it all began on Friday.

Unlike Jakub Voracek, who left Columbus as a Blue Jacket then returned for the All-Star Game as a Flyer, Simmonds doesn’t feel his career will be validated this weekend just because he’s been recognized as one of the game’s best stars.

Yet he does feel it took going cross-country for people to give him a second look.

“Yeah, I definitely think coming to the East Coast allowed people to see my game,” Simmonds said this week. “People kind of watch it more than they do on the West Coast.

“When you play at 10:30 every night, people don’t get to see what you bring out there. I guess you could say it’s validation.”

Simmonds, along with Brayden Schenn, came to the Flyers from the Kings a day before the 2011 NHL draft in exchange for Mike Richards.

Unlike so many players acquired in trades, Simmonds’ career has been one of shooting upward every season as a Flyer, regardless of who’s been coaching him.

This season, he is unquestionably the Flyers' MVP. He had the game-winning goal Wednesday night against the Rangers in New York. His 10 power-play goals are tied for second in the NHL.

He scored on Thursday against Toronto, giving him three straight games with a goal. His 21 goals also lead the Flyers.

“The day he was named our All-Star representative,” coach Dave Hakstol said, “I remember saying I can’t imagine a better player or person to represent the Philadelphia Flyers and what we’re all about.

“Wayne has earned it in every area — off the ice, on the ice. I’m sure he’ll be proud to head back to L.A. for the All-Star Game and he should be.”

Simmonds posted a career-high 32 goals last season and should eclipse his career-best 60 points this year, not to mention his goal output, as well.

Remember Scott Hartnell? Not as much as you used to, right? That’s because Simmonds is the guy who replaced Hartsy in the paint on the first-unit power play and plays a regular role on a top line.

“Obviously, way bigger role,” he said, looking back. “Went from a checking-line guy to an offensive guy and kind of coming back to being that full 200-foot player. It’s an evolution.”

Hakstol added to Simmonds’ role this season by using him on the penalty kill, something he had not done since his first year in L.A.

Simmonds logged 1:26 shorthanded minutes in the first period against Toronto and used the momentum of a big four-minute challenge by scoring a goal on his first shift off the kill at even strength (see story).

Hakstol added that role this season after speaking with assistant Ian Laperriere, who runs the penalty kill.

“I think we talked about a lot of different things with him,” Hakstol said. “It was Lappy who thought he had a lot of good attributes to be a penalty killer.

“I think he does. He skates well. He has a very good stick. He is very competitive. Probably the biggest thing, he wanted to be on the penalty kill. I think this year he has shown that he takes a lot of pride in it, and that’s a big part of killing penalties. You have to take pride in that role.”

It all goes to Simmonds’ comfort level here and that didn’t happen overnight. He hid his emotions well when he first arrived as a 23-year-old.

“I was pretty down after being traded,” Simmonds recalled. “Your first organization. The team that drafted you and cultivated you and most of your game. It sucks. You have friends there, roots you built in the community. Bonds that formed.”

People reached out to tell him what the Flyers were all about — how Ed Snider treated his players as family, not just employees, how everything here was top notch.

In many ways, the Flyers from the get-go have always operated as if they were an original six and not part of the league’s first expansion.

“To come to an organization like the Flyers, I knew they were a first-class organization,” Simmonds said. “A lot of guys [in L.A.] had come from Philly. [Gave me] a lot of good insight about Philly. Didn’t take me long to realize that Philly was awesome and a first-rate organization to go to.”

As sometimes happens with trades, Simmonds first heard of it through the Flyers when then-general manager Paul Holmgren called him.

“Homer called me and I was at my uncle’s cottage in PEI,” said Simmonds, referring to Prince Edward Island. “My [cell] reception there was shoddy. Talked to Homer a bit, got my information on the flight.”

Ron Hextall, the Kings' assistant GM, was next, followed by GM Dean Lombardi.

“Not much was said between me and Hexy and Dean or I,” Simmonds said. “Thank you for what you’ve done. I appreciated the chance I got in L.A. Just moving on."

During the six years here as a Flyer, Simmonds said he’s never had a chance to chat with Lombardi and thank him for giving him his first NHL job.

That may or may not happen this weekend in L.A. Simmonds is hoping it does.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to sit down and have an actual conversation,” he said. “He did a lot for me. Obviously, gave me an opportunity. To make the team as a first-year pro. I was 20. I definitely have an appreciation toward him.”

Simmonds became engaged during the recent bye week. His fiancé, Crystal, will accompany him this weekend.

“Obviously, it’s pretty cool,” he said. “I started dating her my last year I was in L.A. She got out there one or two times. This is a chance for her to enjoy it.”

And as much as Simmonds would like to reacquaint himself with the town a bit, he can’t.

“No plans,” he said. “I got my schedule from the All-Star committee and it’s pretty much that.”

Future Flyers Report: Nolan Patrick and the World Junior Championships

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Future Flyers Report: Nolan Patrick and the World Junior Championships

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

Nolan Patrick, C, 19, 6-2/198, Flyers (NHL)
You might be asking yourself why you’re seeing Patrick’s name in a report about future Flyers. Patrick made the team out of camp and certainly will not be going back to junior, but with the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship approaching, one has to ask if Patrick should be permitted to participate. At 19 years old, Patrick remains eligible for the tournament.

Last Wednesday, Hockey Canada invited 32 players, including Flyers goalie prospect Carter Hart, to its selection camp, which takes place Dec. 12-15. Patrick, along with five other NHLers eligible for Canada, were not invited, but NHL teams have until Dec. 19, which is also the NHL’s holiday break roster freeze, to loan players to Team Canada.

Now back to Patrick. On Sunday afternoon, general manager Ron Hextall said the Flyers will not loan Patrick to Team Canada. Since we know the final decision, let's evaluate what the Flyers had to weigh.

1) Patrick’s role with the Flyers
The Flyers have four games during the WJCs, which begin Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 5, 2018. Canada has two pre-tournament games on Dec. 20 and Dec. 22, and if Patrick were permitted to participate, the Flyers would have been without him for seven games. While the Flyers are in a bigger rebuild than expected, they’re not tanking by any means.

Patrick is centering the Flyers’ fourth line with Travis Konecny and Dale Weise. Both Patrick and Konecny’s ice times have dropped during the Flyers’ successful three-game Western Canada trip. We saw Dave Hakstol shorten his bench as he attempted to protect leads and stop the Flyers’ bleeding. In the now, it was the right decision.

The Flyers snapped a 10-game losing streak last Monday in Calgary and then went on to beat Edmonton and Vancouver. Patrick had just two shifts in the third period in Calgary and three Wednesday night in Edmonton. Thursday, in Vancouver, was an improvement in both ice time and play. Still, he played fourth-line minutes.

“You’re seeing a 19-year-old player who needs to become a pro,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall told The Inquirer last week. “He’s a kid. He’s played some good hockey for us; he’s [also] played some hockey that’s not up to the level that he’s established even at his age. The consistency part is something he has to get better at.”

2) Would Patrick benefit from participating in the tournament?
It’s an interesting question and it's one many wishes would have an easy answer. But it’s not as easy as anyone would have liked it to be. Patrick hasn’t had the impact many hoped he would, and could benefit from a brief period against his peers.

Before Patrick suffered a suspected concussion, he was flashing his playmaking ability that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, even though he played in just 33 games in his draft year because of two different core muscle injuries. Since returning from his suspected concussion Nov. 16, Patrick still hasn’t had the influence many want to see from him. There have been good games — Nov. 24 against the Islanders was his best thus far in the NHL. But there have been bad games too — Dec. 2 against Boston and last Monday in Calgary stand out the most.

We can argue Patrick is being misused because of his recent ice time, that playing him an average of 8:55 the past three games doesn’t help his development. But that would ignore Patrick has received ample opportunity. Patrick averaged 12:23 in the eight games prior — all losses — and his play didn’t warrant more minutes. There is a fine line between winning and developing, and when the Flyers were in the midst of a 10-game losing streak, Dave Hakstol had to do something. Shortening his bench during the three games in Western Canada wasn’t bad coaching; in fact, it was the opposite.

Patrick doesn’t look like a confident player right now. His advanced metrics are a mess. He has just two goals and six points in 20 games. The truth is, he hasn’t played much competitive hockey over the past year because of his injuries. The World Junior Championships are as competitive as junior hockey gets. Patrick missed last year’s tournament because of injury.

While sending Patrick back to Brandon is still an option — the Flyers have already burned one year of his entry-level contract — it’s not a realistic one. The Flyers felt Patrick proved himself NHL ready in the preseason, and what Patrick needs is to be challenged. Dominating teenagers in the WHL will not help his development.

But the WJCs is a different animal. It’s a collection of the best under-20 players in the world playing for their countries. The competition is as high as it gets in that age group. In that environment, Patrick could have proved to be a man among boys, but he would face a far more competitive atmosphere than he would in the WHL. It would have offered him a chance to regain some confidence and come back to the Flyers with a morale boost.

Conclusion
We know the Flyers are not sending Patrick to the WJCs. It's another sign the Flyers are committed to being as competitive as they can be while they rebuild. Patrick, even in his struggles, is better than the alternative. It's also an indication the Flyers want Patrick in the NHL and learn from what he's going through right now. Patrick needs to be challenged, and since he's not eligible for the AHL, this is what's best for him.

Quick hits
• Another week, another shutout for Hart. Hart picked up his fifth shutout of the year and his 24th career shutout Friday with a 39-save effort in Everett’s 3-0 win over Spokane.

Hart has won his past nine games, including four last week. He allowed two goals in three games last week. Hart is simply unbeatable right now in the WHL.

• With his hat trick Saturday night, Western Michigan winger Wade Allison is now second in the nation with 14 goals and third in the country with 25 points. Allison also had an assist against Miami Saturday night, and another helper Friday night.

Cooper Marody had three assists Thursday night in Michigan’s 4-0 win over Michigan State. Marody has 20 assists, second in the nation. He’s averaging 1.5 points per game.

Morgan Frost had two more multi-point games last week. His seven-game multi-point streak ended Sunday, but his point streak hit eight games with an assist. During his seven-game multi-point streak, Frost gathered 14 points. He has 43 points in his last 23 games, 33 points in his last 17 games, leads the OHL as a plus-33, second in the OHL with 32 assists and third with 47 points.

Tanner Laczynski helped No. 15 Ohio State sweep No. 7 Minnesota. Laczynski had a goal Friday, and a goal and an assist Saturday. He has 23 points in 18 games this year.

• Acadie-Bathurst center German Rubtsov had a goal and an assist in two games last week. Rubtsov is riding a four-game point streak with the Titan.

Oskar Lindblom had a two-goal week last week. He has six goals and 15 points in 26 games with the Phantoms.

• It was a pretty productive week for Phantoms center Mikhail Vorobyev, who scored Wednesday and had a goal and an assist Saturday night.

Olle Lycksell, while loaned to IK Oskarshamn for two games, had a must-see shootout dangle last Tuesday. Lycksell had an assist and scored twice in the shootout.

• Guelph’s Isaac Ratcliffe had four assists in three games last week.

Linus Högberg has made Team Sweden’s preliminary roster for the WJCs.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Secondary scoring behind Western Canada surge

Flyers Weekly Observations: Secondary scoring behind Western Canada surge

A three-game win streak?!?!?! All through the daunting Western Canada road gauntlet?!?!?!

Here’s something we haven’t said in a while: what a week it was for the Flyers.

Ah, refreshing, isn’t it? I’m sure the guys in the locker room will tell you it is.

The Flyers’ kicked off the winning run with a 5-2 win Monday night vs. the Flames in Calgary to snap the dreadful 10-game losing skid. On Wednesday night, they skated past the Oilers in impressive fashion with a 4-2 victory in Edmonton. And capping things off the next night with by jumping out to a big lead in Vancouver and holding on to it for a 4-1 triumph.

Per usual, plenty of things to go through this week, but on the good side this time around.

So let’s get this party started, shall we?

• In their three victories this week, the offensively challenged Flyers scored 13 goals. They scored just 20 goals total throughout the prolonged misery of the 10-game losing streak. So what changed?

Like Frankenstein, the Flyers’ secondary scoring sat up and came to life. While Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek each still put up their points, they weren’t forced to do all of the heavy lifting this week. In Calgary, Scott Laughton scored for the first time in 22 games, Valtteri Filppula tallied for the first time in 18 games, Wayne Simmonds struck for just the second time in 19 games and Michael Raffl cashed in for just the third time all season. In Edmonton, Jordan Weal scored for the first time in 13 games and just the third time all year while Dale Weise beat a netminder for just the second time in 16 games. And in Vancouver, Shayne Gostisbehere scored for the third time in 20 games.

Now that … that is what the Flyers were drastically missing during the skid. If Giroux, Voracek and or Couturier weren’t scoring, it was basically game, set and match from the get-go and the Flyers would be fortunate to even get a single marker on the board. Heck, at one point a few weeks ago that trio had accounted for nearly 50 percent of the Flyers’ goals for the entire season.

Giroux, Voracek and Couturier will continue to get theirs. That’s just what they do. But when the others get theirs as well, you see it makes all the difference in the world.

• Have a good number of Dave Hakstol’s lineup decisions dating back to last season raised eyebrows and garnered legitimate questions? Yes, absolutely. But you have to give credit where credit is due as he made a bold decision and broke up the potent Giroux-Couturier-Voracek trio heading into the Calgary game Monday.

That was a gutsy decision to break up a line that was that lethal and one of the best in the league. I’m sure that decision raised a few more eyebrows across the Delaware Valley, but when you’re on a putrid skid and haven’t won a game in almost a month, you can try some crazy things.

This crazy thing worked as the Flyers’ goal-scoring pulse is alive again with those 13 goals in the last three games. Hakstol deserves a lot of credit for pushing the right button there.

• Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the recent line changes has been Raffl.

The 29-year-old Austrian started the season as part of an effective fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier. But as the Flyers started to flounder like a fish out of water, Raffl was juggled up and down the lineup with no set spot. That was until this week when Hakstol injected Raffl into the top six on the second line with Voracek and Filppula. It was one of Hakstol’s bold moves, considering Raffl hadn’t scored since January prior to his goal vs. the New York Islanders on Nov. 22, a span of 42 games (Raffl missed the final month and change last season with an injury).

And the confidence the coach put in the winger is paying off. Raffl looks like a new player out there. He’s using his speed and strength to his advantage, barreling down the ice and setting up shop in front of the net to wreak havoc and cash in. And that’s his game — he’s got a power game and is more than capable of putting the puck in the net. And he’s got noted chemistry with Voracek. Remember, the two were on the Flyers’ top line three seasons ago when Raffl potted a career-high 20 goals. Raffl could be quite the important piece moving forward if the Flyers are to dig out of this hole.

• I’d be remiss beyond comprehension if I didn’t show Brian Elliott some love here. He was pretty darn good for the Flyers over that 10-game losing skid when he went 0-3-5 with a 3.06 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. The best numbers in the world? No. But he made the saves he needed to make and gave the Flyers chances to win night in and night out, exactly what they needed. Elliott’s teammates in front of him just couldn’t pick him up.

But Elliott took his game to another level this week as he was stellar in the three games the Flyers took out in Western Canada. All told, he made 103 stops on 108 shots with a 1.67 goals-against average and .954 save percentage. His best showing of a sterling week came Monday vs. his old mates in Calgary when he stopped 43 of 45 shots faced. The Flames were pouring it on, especially in the second period when they fired 21 pucks on net. But Elliott stood firm and righted the Flyers’ ship with his play. He then stopped 24 of 26 Wednesday in Edmonton and 36 of 37 Thursday in Vancouver.

The guy has been the steadying veteran presence in net and in the locker room. He’s been invaluable to the team so far. He’s taken the reigns of the No. 1 job, and that was even before Michal Neuvirth’s most recent injury. The Flyers clearly have their No. 1 goalie. And Elliott has earned every ounce of that role.

• If you haven’t yet, check out my colleague Jordan Hall’s column from Saturday morning on Hakstol and how the Flyers’ current philosophy has put him in a tricky spot behind the bench.

The Flyers have been toeing this line between development and trying to win for a while now and it’s been a tug of war for Hakstol with his coaching decisions. While some are rightfully questioned, he is still in a tricky spot. It’s a deep dive into that position for Hakstol. Well worth any Flyers fan’s time.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Toronto (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Thursday vs. Buffalo (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Dallas (7 p.m. on NBCSP).