He looked out and couldn’t find the other side; a connection to another landmass (or upstate New York for that matter). Glancing out gave a sense of wonder and possibility but not having a destination at the other end made things discouraging and uneasy. That was the picture of Simmonds’ career at the outset: intrigue and prospect but indecisiveness of where the destination lie.
On Aug. 26, 1988, Simmonds was born to Wanda and Cyril Simmonds in a place which has produced Hockey Hall of Famer Larry Murphy, former Philadelphia Flyer Rick Tocchet and current New Jersey Devils winger Devante Smith-Pelly. He loved the game of hockey but in order to play it he had to help earn the money for it by selling chocolates and working construction with his dad, which bought equipment and registration fees.
He began making a name for himself as a member of the CJHL’s Brockville Braves in 2005-06, scoring 43 points (24 goals, 19 assists) in 48 games. Many took note of Simmonds’ ability including current Los Angeles Kings Vice President and Director of Player Personnel Mike Futa, who was the general manager of the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack at that time.
Futa and the Sound Attack selected Simmonds in the sixth round of the 2006 OHL Draft but there was much discussion and deliberation as the 17-year old held a scholarship from Bowling Green University. Simmonds had risen to become a highly sought prospect and the unnerving choice of either playing in the OHL or for a NCAA Division 1 collegiate hockey program brought on additional contemplation. He decided to stick with Futa, who would become an invaluable asset into his eventual move to the NHL.
Simmonds made Futa look like a genius, scoring 23 goals and 26 assists in first season with the Sound Attack. Futa was hired as the Kings’ Director of Amateur Scouting after Simmonds’ first year and persuaded his new club to take the Ontario native in the 2007 NHL Draft (2nd round, 61st overall).
Simmonds was not brought up to the NHL in his first-draft eligible year but instead remained in the OHL. The young player continued to develop scoring a combined 75 points (33G, 42A) with Owen and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, who he was traded to midway through the 2007-08 season, while also making the Canadian junior team.
Simmonds made the Kings opening day roster in 2008 and scored his first goal in his third NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks. He appeared in all 82 games that season, tallying 23 points (9G, 14A) and showing flashes of brilliance at a young age. He helped Los Angeles advance to the postseason in his next two years with the team by racking up 70 points in that span, but had not gotten to where the Kings wanted him to be in his development.
After falling in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in six games, the Flyers were looking to head in a different direction by trading captain Mike Richards and forward Rob Bordson to the Kings for Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. Simmonds, who was averaging less than 15 minutes per game over his three years with LA, was shocked by the trade but it didn’t take long for the culture of the City of Brotherly Love to begin to resonate with him.
“It took a little bit but Philadelphia is such a great organization. As soon as I got there, I felt welcome with open arms,” Simmonds said during All-Star Weekend. “The city is just blue-collar, hardworking people and that’s what I based my game around.”
Simmonds blossomed into the player many knew he could be, scoring 28 goals (tied with Claude Giroux for the team lead) in his first year in Philadelphia and helping the team win a memorable 4-2 first-round playoff series over the rival Pittsburgh Penguins.
Following the lockout-shortened season of 2012, Simmonds reached the 60-point plateau for the first time in his career in 2013-14, helping the Flyers advance to the playoffs before falling to the New York Rangers in seven games in the opening round. Over the next two seasons, Simmonds posted his best two-year stretch, scoring 110 points (60G, 50A) despite the Flyers only advancing to one playoff appearance.
Every year, he has gazed out at the ice as he would back home when looking at Lake Ontario and every year another goal was accomplished toward potentially reaching that elusive other side. From personal scoring achievements to playoff appearances, Simmonds had made gradually improvements to his game and 2016-17 has only continued that trend.
Simmonds was invited to training camp with Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey and made it all the way to the final cut. He has been amongst the league leaders in power-play goals all season (currently tied for 2nd; Schenn leads the NHL with 12) and his 73 career PPGs are tied 36th among current NHL players (Giroux has 62). During the Flyers’ 10-game winning streak, he scored 10 points including six goals and it helped him in being named to his first NHL All-Star Game in, of all places, Los Angeles. Simmonds spoke with one of his teammates, who also had been traded to the Flyers in the summer of 2011 and was named to the All-Star Game in the city he once played in.
“I think it makes it even that much more special. I know Jake [Voracek] got the chance to play in the all-star game when it was in Columbus and I know that was pretty special to him when I spoke with him,” Simmonds said. “It goes the same for me. I was drafted and played three years in Los Angeles, and to have my first opportunity to play in an all-star game back there is really special to me.”
The Flyers are 83-45 in games where Simmonds scores at least one goal during his six years with the team. That speaks to what he means to the Flyers and the success they’ve had during his tenure. After one of those games, a 4-2 victory over the Nashville Predators on Dec. 4 where Simmonds scored two PPGs, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol took pride in describing exactly the type of player he gets to coach every day.
“He’s doing what he does every night. If there’s a better guy in the league on that front whether it’s on the power play or 5-on-5, I don’t know who that is,” the second-year coach said. “What I really like about Simmer is that he’s on that front, scoring goals on the power play and being a great, hard-nosed, 200 foot player.”
From Owen to LA to Philly, Simmonds has had his ups and down along the way but the All-Star Game was culmination of it all as he was named MVP after scoring three goals in wins over the Atlantic and Pacific divisions while helping the Metropolitan win the first 3-on-3, divisional format title in NHL All-Star history. Simmonds was named the first Flyers All-Star Game MVP since Reggie Leach in 1980, and he was able to reflect on everything he had been able to accomplish in his career to that point.
“It’s kind of a perfect ending for me. I started my career here and played three years for the Kings,” Simmonds said. “I come back and got a pretty good ovation from the fans, which I really appreciated. To have me win the MVP and we win the game, I still can’t believe it. It’s almost surreal.”
Simmonds already sits 19th in goals scored (155) and 31st in points (291), respectively in Flyers history. When he gazes out at that lake now, it’s not about rising up the ranks of greatest Flyers or being the All-Star Game MVP; it’s about finding the other side.
The intrigue and possibility have been realized, continually updated and realized again. It’s bringing everything that he’s learning along his path to make an easier path for his teammates and a city, which yearns for its third Stanley Cup. He’s the closest he’s ever been to that other side, even if he’s still standing on the shoreline and he knows it’s not as far it appears.