New Leaf Wayne Simmonds met with the media after the first day of on-ice training camp sessions, discussing his current fitness, role on the team, and his potential linemates in Jason Spezza and Alex Barabanov.
How did it feel the first day out there for training camp? You’re coming in healthy with a tremendous amount of time to prepare and train properly. How did you feel your first day out there pulling on a Leaf uniform?
Simmonds: First of all, it is an honour and a pleasure to put on the blue and white. This is probably the greatest organization in the NHL and I am honoured to be a part of it now.
I think the last couple of years for me were kind of crappy just for the fact that I wasn’t able to train in the summer and the majority of everything I did was maintenance and rehab. Obviously, Covid hasn’t been good on anybody, and you never want to say there is a silver lining, but for me, having those 10 months off before we even got into training camp has been a blessing in disguise. I was able to do a full summer program plus pretty much an extra summer program within those 10 months there.
I feel awesome. This is the best I have felt in the last three or four years. I can’t wait to get out there against some other opponents besides our own guys.
What has it been like the last few months for you? You were saying in one of your first workouts, you skated by the glass, saw the Leafs jersey, and said, “Wow, this is pretty cool.”
Simmonds: They have been awesome. Since the day I signed, guys started reaching out immediately. I have been in here for about a month now. I had a chance to meet the guys and become familiarized with the staff — just to get myself through to where I want to be for the start of training camp.
I skated by the glass again today and still look good in blue and white. It is nice.
Mitch Marner mentioned meeting you at the Worlds a few years ago and being scared of you. What were your first impressions of him?
Simmonds: I remember the first night, the whole team went out, and Mitch and I threw a couple of dance moves down together. He is a hellova player. That was probably four years ago now, so his first or second year in the league. You can see where he has come from then. Even then, he was unbelievable.
Now, the way he tap dances out there on his skates… The skill level of this whole group is ridiculous. Hopefully, with the physicality and the traits that I bring — veteran presence, leadership — I’ll just try to integrate myself with this group and help the boys out.
Is there anyone you didn’t know before that has stood out to you in camp and the pre-game skates?
Simmonds: I am going to say [Alex Kerfoot]. I knew he was a good player. I said to him the other day that I feel like he has been around forever, having played against him in Colorado, but he has a calming presence about him. The way he commands the middle of the ice, he plays a full 200-foot game. He has really good skills. You appreciate guys a lot more when you skate with them on a day-to-day basis versus seeing them one game at a time or two games throughout the year. I think he has really impressed me here.
Is it sort of an unstated thing that part of the role of both you and Joe Thornton is to be physical and protect teammates?
Simmonds: The whole protecting the teammates… Obviously, Joe can throw them, but for me, that is a main staple in my game and what I do. Being out in LA and playing against Jumbo for the first few years of my career, we didn’t really know each other off the ice, but coming in, we’ve had some great conversations. We are sitting a seat apart from each other in the dressing room here. We have had some great conversations going through the last 2-3 weeks here.
Like I said earlier, I can’t wait to get started with the boys.
What do you think about potentially playing on a line with Jason Spezza and Alex Barabanov?
Simmonds: It is great whenever you get a chance to play with a center of the calibre of Jason Spezza. Barabanov has some great skill on the left side, too. I don’t have to change my game too much playing with those guys. It is about getting in and mucking it up and loosening up pucks. Let those guys work, and get to the front of the net from there.
At this stage of your career, how special is this opportunity with this team for you?
Simmonds: It’s a huge opportunity. This is one of the greatest organizations in all of sports, not only the NHL. For me, I think I am fully back to health and ready to go. I am not just looking to be a passenger. I am looking to be an impact player and play the role I am given here while pushing the boys along. I have been a leader on every team I have been on, so I am going to look to instill that into the guys and keep pushing and let my work ethic speak for itself there.