LOS ANGELES — During the Los Angeles Kings’ recent run to fourth place in both the Western Conference standings and in the overall National Hockey League standings (through games played on February 7), two role players have contributed a lot more than what has been expected of them. Indeed, forwards Brad Richardson and Wayne Simmonds have surprised most by playing key roles in the Kings’ surge in the standings.
Last season, injuries and uneven play limited Richardson, 24, to just five assists in 31 games. He was unable to find his niche on the team after being acquired by the Kings on June 21, 2008 from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for a second round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
After Richardson’s poor showing last season, expectations for the 5-11, 195-pound native of Belleville, Ontario were low, and he found himself on the Kings’ fourth line to start the 2009-10 season. Despite that, he was not going to be denied.
Indeed, he worked hard and played with grit not seen from him before, and, as a result, Richardson started to gain the trust of head coach Terry Murray starting in mid-November. His ice time started to creep up, and he moved up from the fourth line to the third line and now, Richardson is playing on the Kings top two lines, alongside Simmonds and center Anze Kopitar.
Richardson, who has scored seven goals and has added thirteen assists for twenty points in 57 games this season, has also made an impression on his general manager.
“He’s come up the old-fashioned way, kind of like [former Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs center] Doug Gilmour,” said Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi. “That’s the way guys used to break in. They used to be big scorers in junior. They all had to break in on the fourth line because they had to learn to check and play defense.”
“[Richardson is] another one,” added Lombardi. “He breaks in, he thinks he’s going to be a skilled guy and last year, he started to learn to pay the price. His grit level is way up there compared to where it was last year.”
To be sure, adding the grit has been the key to Richardson’s success.
“He goes back, learns the grit thing, but can’t buy a goal [early in the season],” Lombardi noted. “He kept doing all the gritty things. Now, some of that offensive instinct comes back and he’s gritty. It’s similar again to a guy having to go back and add to his game.”
As well as Richardson has played, Simmonds, 21, has been an even bigger surprise after coming to the NHL straight out of junior hockey.
Last season, the 6-2, 183-pound native of Scarborough, Ontario found himself on the Kings’ third line and contributed nine goals and fourteen assists for 23 points in 82 games, but did not give any indication of what was to come in the 2009-10 season.
After spending a lot of time over the summer in the gym and working on his game, Simmonds, who was selected by the Kings in the second round (61st overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, has become one of the Kings’ best players, and Lombardi credited him for his dedication and ability to learn.
“He’s probably one of the finest students I’ve ever had in a development program,” Lombardi beamed. “He might be the best, and that’s another tribute to our development people, Nelson Emerson and that department.”
Simmonds has an apparent knack for picking up things quickly.
“Simmonds is one of those kids where whatever he was taught, he bit it off, shook his head and attacked it,” said Lombardi. “He was the best student I’ve ever seen picking up things and immediately and going out and working at it.”
“In terms of where a teacher just shows you once and the guy say, ‘I get it, I get it,’ and then goes out there and does it immediately? Every teacher wishes it was like that,” added Lombardi. “He has to be, out of all the kids I’ve seen in a development program, he’s clearly in the top two or three in terms of grasping it, wanting to learn and going out and working at it and boom, applying it out on the rink.”
Simmonds’ down-to-Earth nature and character are also big factors in his development.
“He did the same thing this summer, and what I loved about him this summer, was that, unlike a kid who becomes an NHL player—you know, they’re all [have a bit of an attitude] when they make the team,” Lombardi explained. “He made the team last year and established himself.”
“[But this year], he didn’t change a lick,” Lombardi elaborated. “He was ready to go, he was ready to work with the rookies, there was no ‘I’m an NHLer’ [attitude]. What he did with his teammates there, I thought, ‘wow.’ It was, ‘what do I have to do? What’s next?’ It wasn’t that he made it or anything.”
Indeed, Simmonds is well on his way to “making it.” But as Lombardi indicated, it appears that no one should be concerned about it going to his head.
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.