In his most challenging effort to date, Don Fulton finally tracked down Kings prospect Wayne Simmonds, and got a great interview for his effort. As I just finished telling Don, Simmonds is one of the players I’m most looking forward to seeing again, just to see how he has developed since last fall. Here’s the interview…
Forward Wayne Simmonds is just a classic interview, especially when he gets to talking about his favorite subject: Punishing his opponents.
The 19-year-old Scarborough, Ontario native just completed a lengthy OHL season that saw him play half his games for the Owen Sound Attack and the other half for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, followed by three OHL playoff series. And in between Simmonds was a member of Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the World Juniors in January.
He can score goals – 33 in 60 OHL games. He can skate fast – he took second place in the OHL’s fastest skater competition in February. And he can certainly hold his own in a good old fashioned hockey fight. Simmonds endeared himself to Kings fans back in September for his willingness to throw punches with former Anaheim tough guy Shane Hnidy in an exhibition game.
Simmonds took a few minutes to talk about his multi faceted game on Thursday afternoon.
Q&A: Wayne Simmonds
Question: Tough playoff series with Kitchener for you guys, but you had an exciting post season.
Simmonds: It was just unreal. We started off so well, 4-0 over Saginaw and then 4-1 over Guelph, and we ended up playing against Kitchener in the West Finals, and they are ranked number one in Canada. We played as hard as we could, but we just didn’t get any bounces and we were unfortunate.
Question: It seemed like things got a little chippy at times against the Rangers. Is that just typical of playoff hockey?
Simmonds: Definitely typical playoff hockey. Both teams are just out there battling out there and neither one wants to give up an inch.
Question: Your regular season was a good one, although it was disrupted a bit with your trade from Owen Sound to Soo. Was that difficult for you to deal with?
Simmonds: In my situation, I actually knew that I was going to be traded at the beginning of the year. I spoke with my GM and he told me that I was going to be traded, so all I had to do was wait and then see where I would be going.
Question: Was that kind of weird playing for a team knowing that your trade was imminent?
Simmonds: It was weird because I really didn’t know when I was going to get traded. I tried not to focus on it too much because I wanted to help out the team the best that I could, but it was always in the back of my mind knowing that I was going to be dealt soon.
Question: It seemed like you were a perfect fit for the Greyhounds.
Simmonds: It was great. I was only here a few days before I went off to the World Juniors, but when I got back they welcomed me with open arms and it was great, all the guys on the team and the coaching staff – it was unreal. The fan support we got from the Soo fans was just unbelievable.
Question: The statistics you put up between the two teams are nearly identical, but did you still feel like you jump-started things when you got to Soo?
Simmonds: I was so excited to come to a new city and I wanted to prove to them that trading for me would work to their benefit.
Question: Tell me a little about how your overall game developed in this past year.
Simmonds: I think I really became much more aware of my surroundings and I became more responsible defensively. I just became much more aware of what was going on around me on the ice and playing smarter without the puck.
Question: I saw the clip of you winning the faster skater contest in the skills competition. How do you utilize your speed to your advantage in a game?
Simmonds: I like to take defenseman wide – that’s pretty much my game – I take the puck along the walls and it works to my advantage because some defensemen don’t skate that well (laughs), and then hopefully I get the puck in deep and there’s no risk there.
Question: At that point you put your strength and reach into play, right?
Simmonds: Yes, that is definitely a part of my down low game. I’m a very physical player. I play most of the game down below the red line in the other team’s zone, so it helps me out in protecting the puck and using my reach to my advantage.
Question: One of the knocks on your game is that you are looking to pass first and shoot second. Is that an accurate assessment and is it something you are working on?
Simmonds: Oh yeah, definitely. I think this year I shot much more than I have, and definitely more than last year. I don’t really classify myself as a scorer or a playmaker. I think I’m somewhere in between. I’ve been shooting the puck a lot more so I think I am adapting well.
Question: It would seem like your next natural step would be the American League next season since you turn 20 in August. Is that in your plans, or are you setting the bar higher?
Simmonds: I’m definitely going in to camp with my best foot forward and see what happens from there. From a development standpoint the American League makes sense and getting a year in pro against older and stronger guys in the ‘A would be good for me, but you know if I happen to make the Kings, then I make the Kings, but I don’t have any problem playing in the AHL.
Question: You are definitely not shy about bringing a nasty element to your game and mixing it up with anyone.
Simmonds: You know, my whole life I have always been really feisty and I just don’t take any stuff from anyone. I stand up for myself and my teammates. That is the way I like to play the game.
Question: Was there one particular scrap this season that you recall with a smile on your face?
Simmonds: Oh, there were a couple (laughs). Some guys like to challenge me. There was one game in Kitch (Kitchener) where I was cutting across the blue line and somebody came up to hit me and I saw him at the last second and I just popped him. One of their players jumped me and I killed him (laughs). I gave him some rights and some lefts and he just dropped. I laughed the whole way to the box.
Question: Was there a particular player you grew up watching that you emulated?
Simmonds: Jarome Iginla has always been my favorite player, and to a certain extent I like Mike Richards, the way he plays on Philly, so both those guys I try and model my game after.
Question: As a black hockey player, do you feel any added scrutiny or burden in a sport where minorities are under-represented?
Simmonds: I don’t think there is any added pressure, but you always want to be a role model for the younger kids who are looking up to you. There are a lot more black hockey players playing the game now and I think I strive to get to the pro level just so they have someone else to look up to and that it can be done.
Question: What are you off-season plans?
Simmonds: I’m just going to be hitting the gym a lot, probably six times a week just trying to get bigger and stronger.
Question: I’ve read varying accounts of your height and weight, can you set me straight?
Simmonds: Last time I weighed and measured I was 6-1 and a half, 177 pounds.
Question: How about we just call that 6-2?
Simmonds: Sounds good (laughs).
Question: Do you have an ideal weight you want to get to before training camp?
Simmonds: I definitely want to be above 185. I think that is very possible and even 190. I think if I get there I’ll be in great shape.
Question: You had the opportunity to play in some exhibition games for the Kings this last year. That had to be a thrill.
Simmonds: It was just unreal, playing with some great players on the Kings and I played against Anaheim and San Jose. Just playing against players I have watched my whole life was just a great thrill.