For many of those on the East coast that don't get the opportunity to watch the Los Angeles Kings on a regular basis, they might now know the name "Wayne Simmonds". The 21-year old forward is in his second season with the Kings and after a year learning on the job has become a player that Los Angeles coach Terry Murray has relied upon. After entering the NHL last season, Simmonds has settled down his play and it's showing on the stat sheet. Currently with 10 goals and 14 assists, Simmonds has already passed his stats from his rookie year in over 40 less games. Murray has been impressed with Simmonds improved play from a year ago: "He's played very well. I go back to the end of the season last year, 10, 12 games. He really started to step up and take more of a role in this hockey club and just continuing to build on it this year."
We were able to chat with Simmonds earlier this week about the growing interest in the Kings in Los Angeles; the greatness of Drew Doughty(notes); the climate change from Ontario to Los Angeles; meeting Cuba Gooding Jr.; and the trash talk between him and Oscar Moller(notes) since the 2008 World Junior Championships.
Please do enjoy.
Q. First, how's the knee feeling?
SIMMONDS: It feels good actually. Feeling stronger every day. Every time I go out there and skate I get more comfortable on it.
Your first NHL game was against the Sharks in San Jose. What's your lasting moment from that game?
I think the National Anthem being played in San Jose. I was just standing there during it and that place is electric. The crowd was so loud they were cheering through the anthem. I couldn't really believe what I was doing at that moment.
Did you have a lot of nerves going into that game and did they go away once you got onto the ice and got your first touch of the puck?
Oh yeah. I was really nervous. My line started the game, but somehow I didn't make it onto the ice. They just replaced me with another right-winger for the start of the game but, you know, that's understandable. First year player playing in your first game. I don't think they want to put you under too much stress, especially your first shift.
Through 42 less games this season, you've already passed your stats from a year ago. What can you attribute to your improved play this season?
I think it's maturity and just understanding the league more. Last year I was nervous and kind of rushed around with the puck and didn't take my time to see what was going on. This year I'm more patient and more aware of what's going on around me.
Have you observed some of the veterans in the locker room and taken anything from the way they handle themselves?
Definitely, I think when Smitty (Ryan Smyth(notes)) came in at the beginning of this year I watched him a lot because I'm not the exact type of player he is, but I try to incorporate some of his game into mine and I think that was huge for me. We have a really young team and just by watching the veterans like you said it's easy to learn what's going on in the league and just to talk to them as well they help you out because they've been in the league for so long.
You've done some work for the "Hockey is for Everyone" program with Willie O'Ree. What advice you get from him about being a NHL player?
Willie just told me you've got to work twice as hard as the next guy to succeed and it's all about hard work. He broke a lot of barriers down for different races and a lot of guys appreciate that. Just to hear someone like him say "continue doing what you're doing and just work hard," it means a lot.
This might be a sore subject, but were you able to watch the World Junior title game on Tuesday night?
Yeah, I watched it. We had a couple of Canadian guys over last night and it was a pretty eventful game, but I don't think it turned out the way most Canadians fans had wanted it to, but the Americans had a good team there.
First of all, Campbell won the game. I thought he was unbelievable. I don't know how many shots he faced, but he played unreal is some key situations and shut the door. On Eberle, that kid, he's just clutch. Edmonton's got something special there in that kid.
You played for Canadian team during the 2008 World Junior tournament and that Sweden 3-2 in overtime. Have you been trash talking Oscar Moller ever since?
Oh yeah, you know, me and Doughty were roommates and we always talked to Oscar every time we saw him and we told him, especially last year when he left to go play at the World Juniors, you're just going to finish second again, there's no point. This year we were trash talking him the whole time thinking that Sweden was going to make the finals and they didn't even make it, so we got him even better this year.
So, if he ever gets on your nerves is it a case where you and Doughty wear your gold medals around the locker room?
[Laughs] No, we don't take it to that level, but we'll give him little digs here and there. We beat them in overtime when Oscar was playing, so we're not shy to give him a little shot about that, he's one of our good buddies so we're not afraid.
You played against Drew Doughty in the OHL, then with him in the World Juniors for Canada and now on the Kings, you've gotten to see him up close. For those East coasters who don't get to watch him play that often, how good is he?
I think people on the East coast are missing out because Doughts is unbelievable. He's good defensively first of all and on top of that, he's unbelievable in the offensive zone. He just makes smart decisions with the puck and he rarely ever makes a mistake and if he does he's the first guy to try to make up for it immediately. If I were the people on the East I'd want to be watching our team just to see him play.
Should he be a Norris candidate this season?
There's a lot of good defenseman in our league, but as far as young defenseman go I'd say he's the best young defenseman in our league right now. As far as Norris goes, I think one day he will win the Norris. He might be up there this year, but you never know what'll happen.
You grew up in Ontario and now you're living in Los Angeles. How did you handle the drastic change in climate?
Got rid of all my winter jackets first of all. [Laughs] I just have a suit coat for the road and besides that I just walk around in a T-shirt and shorts. It's so nice out here. It's 70 degrees and sunny everyday. You walk out of your house and sometimes I still think it's going to be cold and I have a sweater and I'm like, "Wow, I've got to take this thing off. I'm going to be sweating buckets." It's definitely a nice change.
You're in a sports town with the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Dodgers. Have you seen a gradual interest in the Kings even though you're competing against the Lakers, Dodgers and even USC football?
Definitely. The more we keep winning the more the fans will come out. I think we've sold out the last three or four games in a row. It's been great. I never expected it but they've supported us through our downfalls and our high points. The fans here are great. I love playing here.
Have you bumped into any celebrities walking down the street?
I've met Cuba Gooding Jr. a couple of times. He loves hockey, he's always at the games.
I'm told the Kings will be giving away a bobblehead of you February 11th. Have you seen what it looks like yet?
No, I actually haven't seen it yet, but that's pretty awesome. I don't know if they make bobbleheads of everyone on the team or not, but I think that's amazing. I remember when I was younger I used to collect bobblehead dolls. Maybe I can add one more to the collections and that's going to be me.
How many have you requested for your friends and family yet?
I haven't requested any yet. I just got told yesterday, but I'm sure I'm going to need about a dozen.
What's the best practical joke played in the locker room since you've been on the Kings?
Last year someone cut my shoe in half on the road. It wasn't supposed to be me, but someone was making fun of Matt [Greene] and I accidentally put my shoes in his stall and they got cut in half. So I walked out of the rink with half a shoe on.
(UPDATE: Here's a Kings Vision video of Greene talking about Simmonds' shoe in half by mistake. Starts around the 1:44 mark.)
What's on your iPod right now?
I'm a hip-hop guy. I've got a lot of Lil' Wayne. I like a little bit of techno. I'm also not shy about the country music as well.
Is there a song or two that gets you pumped up before a game?
We have a lot of Eminem that we play before in the dressing room. So that gets me pretty jazzed up.
Last movie you saw in the theatre or on DVD?
"Inglorious Basterds". I thought it was unbelievable.
What other sports you enjoy playing or watching?
I enjoy playing basketball, don't like watching it too much and I'd say the same thing for baseball. I like playing baseball, but it's kind of boring to watch.
Have you gotten to any Lakers or Dodgers games?
I've been to about four or five of each. Playing in L.A. you've got to experience that for sure.
Now that you've got your own bobblehead the Dodgers should be inviting you to take batting practice, right?
That's be pretty nice. I'd love to step up in the batters box so I can hit a few yard.