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.”