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Wayne Simmonds: 'The youth can spark' Flyers' veterans

TORONTO — Heading into his seventh season with the Flyers, and 10th overall, Wayne Simmonds is looking forward to building off a second consecutive 30-plus-goal season while helping lead a young group back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With everyone from second overall pick Nolan Patrick to blueliners Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Phil Myers and Travis Sanheim all vying for roster spots, Simmonds, 28, is seeing the game change before his eyes.

“I think I’m kind of getting up there. This year is my 10th year, right? So I see some names, I’m not just saying on our team alone, but in the whole league, game is changing a little bit,” Simmonds said Wednesday at the annual BioSteel Camp in Toronto. “All I can do is lead by example. I’m going to go in there and play the game the way I play and hopefully those guys will follow.”

Following the 2016-17 season, which saw the Flyers go 39-33-10 while finishing 11th in the Eastern Conference, Simmonds represented Canada at the IIHF World Championships, registering two assists in 10 games while helping the Canadians win a silver medal.

Prior to getting into his offseason workout program, Simmonds and his fiancee Crystal Corey took a much-needed vacation.

“I got a chance to go to Jamaica with my fiancee, so we did that at the beginning of the summer after we came back from world championship,” Simmonds said. “We just went to Montego Bay, kept it close, we didn’t want to drive too far from the airport.

“Saw a lot of the island, took a drive to Negril, spent a day in Negril, which was actually beautiful white sand beaches and great restaurants and stuff like that, so it was pretty cool.”

The summer also saw Simmonds lose a few close teammates as the Flyers parted ways with goaltender Steve Mason and forward Brayden Schenn, among others.

“Very sad to see him go, I have a really good relationship with Steve,” Simmonds said. “We played together for a long time going all the way back to world juniors, winning a gold medal with him, so it’s sad to see him go, but it’s just part of the business. Guys change teams here and there and you’ve just got to accept it.”

Despite not playing with Brian Elliott, who was brought in to replace Mason, Simmonds already has a relationship with the goaltender, who spent last season in Calgary.

“I got a chance to talk to [Elliott] a little bit through text,” Simmonds said. “I actually know him and his wife a little bit. His wife is actually the godmother of one of my best friend’s kids, so we’ve got a connection there.”

Simmonds also sees Schenn’s departure as an opening for second-year forward Travis Konecny.

“I think that’s going to give T.K. an unbelievable opportunity,” Simmonds said. “The way he plays the game, the way he thinks the game, the speed he plays it at and the confidence level he was building towards last year — you could see it at the end of last year and at the world championship when he kind of broke out.

“He played unbelievable. He’s probably top three or four in our team in scoring — he’s a great player and I think the more ice time you give him, the better he’s going to get.”

The Flyers saw an eight-point drop-off last season compared to 2015-16, when they made the playoffs, and with an influx of young players expected, expectations aren’t high. The Hockey News predicted the Flyers to once again finish sixth in the Metropolitan Division in its annual yearbook issue. Despite the outlook, Simmonds believes there’s room for his club to build off last season.

“This year we’re going to have a lot of young defensemen coming in and I think it’s going to make our team better,” he said. “With a good mix of youth and veterans, I think the youth can spark the veterans a little bit and the veterans will help bring the younger guys [along].”

The Flyers head into the 2017-18 season looking to avoid missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since going five straight seasons without playoff hockey from 1990-94.

The weight of trying to qualify for the playoffs in a tough Metropolitan Division is no added pressure on the leadership group, according to Simmonds. 

“Go out there, play my game and lead the way I lead,” he said. “There’s no pressure for us. We’ve got to go in there and just play hockey. We didn’t fulfill what we wanted to do last year, so it’s up to us, I think, as leaders of the group to lead the way for the young guys and have everyone pulling the rope in the same direction.”