By Sam Bush

In a season that has been distinguished by the individual play of captain Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, the Flyers of late have been floated near the playoffs by Wayne Simmonds

Entering the Flyers’ game today against the Washington Capitals (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC), he’s tied for third in the League with 12 power-play goals; his 33 goals on the man-advantage since the start of the 2012-13 season are third, behind Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin (57) and Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks (37).

For long stretches, the power play has been the chief place Simmonds has been productive; of 14 goals in a 49-game stretch between Oct. 14 and Feb. 5, five came at even strength.

In his past seven games, he has five goals, with four during 5-on-5 play.

Simmonds has excelled no matter where he’s played. Since the All-Star break he’s had Ryan White as a center, and did well playing with the Flyers’ top checking forwards, Sean Couturier and Matt Read. Saturday against the Nashville Predators he was moved to the top line, alongside All-Star center Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl.

No matter who Simmonds has played with, one constant has been the 26-year-old more often carrying the puck into the offensive zone and creating scoring chances off the rush.

“I saw it last year,” Flyers coach Craig Berube said. “I thought that Wayne was trying to become more of a rush player, more of a threat off the rush. He’s brought it even to another level this year, just using his speed wide. And he’s starting to find his niche shooting the puck off the rush.

“If you want to develop into more of a scoring threat, you have to score off the rush. Five-on-five, you have to score off the rush. He does a great job around the net, on the power play. And then in the offensive zone 5-on-5 he gets around the net. He’s dangerous. To be more of a threat you’ve got to develop that rush.”

It’s more than just developing a skill; for Simmonds it was changing a mindset.

“I think for me it’s more if I’m getting the puck with speed coming down the wing, shoot it,” he said. “Don’t look to pass it; be a shoot-first player. I think that’s how I have to play. I have to skate, I’ve got to hit and I’ve got to shoot.”

The result has been improved even-strength play at a time the Flyers need the added offense. Jakub Voracek and Giroux, the Flyers’ top two scorers and two of the top-15 point-producers in the League, have been in a slump; in 11 games since the All-Star break they have combined for two goals (both by Voracek). In those 11 games, Simmonds has seven goals and six assists, with four goals and five assists coming at even strength.

“That’s part of my role,” Simmonds said. “[Giroux and Voracek] are going to get points. But if you don’t have secondary scoring it’s tough to win in this League. I think we’ve been doing a good job of carrying it right now. [Giroux] and Jake will come back, no doubts about that. As long as we can chip in here and there and help the team out, that’s all we want.”

The growth in Simmonds game has been something Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has enjoyed watching. Hextall was the assistant GM of the Kings when they selected Simmonds in the second round (No. 61) of the 2007 NHL Draft, and he was there when Simmonds made his NHL debut as a 20-year-old in 2008-09.

“You get him when he’s a 20-year-old kid, those guys are really still kids,” Hextall said. “But you could see the intangibles. You could see the grit, you could see the drive, you could see the will. You knew he was going to become a good player because he’s going to get everything out of himself that he can. I think he’s going to continue to get better. But I don’t think there’ll be a point where you’re looking atWayne Simmonds and think he’s got to give us more. He gives you everything he’s got every night.”

In his first three seasons in Los Angeles, Simmonds was a bottom-six forward who was asked to hit and create energy; offensive creativity wasn’t frowned upon, but wasn’t exactly encouraged.

“I was used more in a defensive role [with the Kings],” Simmonds said. “Cycle the puck, dump it in, create energy, go hit and cycle. I didn’t really think twice about starting anything in the neutral zone. If I turned the puck over, [Kings coach] Terry Murray would have me sitting on the bench. So that wasn’t even on my mind.”

When Simmonds was acquired by the Flyers as part of the Mike Richards trade in June 2011, coach Peter Laviolette gave Simmonds a larger role. Under Berube, Simmonds has become a top-six stalwart and a force in front of the net on the top power-play unit.

“I have a little more leeway here, but I’m not trying to abuse it,” Simmonds said. “I still have to play smart, get the puck deep. But if I have an opportunity to skate it in off the wing and snap a shot on net I’m not afraid to do that.”

Simmonds also understands that making himself as much of a threat at even-strength as he is on the power play forces teams to defend him differently, which could open space for his linemates.

“The way I scored goals my first couple years here is on the power play, in front of the net, getting those backdoor passes,” he said. “Teams are starting to key on that, teams are starting to shut that down. It’s me trying to add versatility to my game and adjust. As the League figures out your strong points, you have to adjust to where you can contribute somewhere else.

“I want to be a go-to guy on this team. I want to be someone that can help in all situations. That’s what I’m trying to build my game around.”


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