So, what version of Wayne Simmonds do you expect this season? The one who played mostly healthy and mostly productive in the three seasons prior to the last one, when an offseason core-muscle injury diminished the very characteristics that make him special: strong on the puck, strong at the net, a contact terror along the boards.
Simmonds has yet to play a game this season, and the polite growl that accompanied his frustrations last season has yet to dissipate. In the final year of a team-friendly contract that pays him $3.975 million annually, this could be a good thing or a bad thing. We won't begin to know until he starts playing – probably at some point in the final two exhibition games this week.
Simmonds projects to be a third-line right wing, with either Jordan Weal or promising rookie Mikhail Vorobyev as his centerman, and Oskar Lindblom on his left. But Simmonds has played up and down the lineup, so a return to health could quickly change that formula.
For now, though, it appears he will follow Travis Konecny — projected to start on the first line with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux — and Jake Voracek, who seems targeted for a second line centered by Nolan Patrick and free-agent acquisition James van Riemsdyk on the left.
>> Position preview: Left wing now a strength
>> Position preview: Competitive group of centers
With the Oct. 4 start of the season looming, here's how the right wing slot is shaking out:
Travis Konecny (5-foot-10, 175 pounds): Still just 21 years old, the flashy winger became a more responsible player in 2017-18, and thus a more relied-upon one. Not only did his goals and points increase from 11-28 to 23-24, but his plus-minus went from minus-2 to plus 17. He has been harshly critical of his play during training camp, more so than his demanding coach. A good sign for all.
Jake Voracek (6-2, 214): A year ago Voracek spoke of a change in eating habits, then went out and had what was arguably his best year as a pro. Not only was his production up, from 61 points to 85 points, it came no matter what line he played on. Indeed, he seemed to jolt struggling linemates out of temporary doldrums. His embarrassing minus-24 from 2016-17 also reversed to a plus-24 last season, an indication not only of his renewed defensive commitment, but an increased depth and potency of his team in general.
Wayne Simmonds (6-2, 185): Entering last season there were some who argued Simmonds was the team's best player, its best leader, its heart and soul. All of those arguments dissipated through an incredible list of injuries, including a core-muscle injury that robbed him of his stability and power. The grit remained however, evidenced every day in training camp by the toothless character who greets the media to discuss the progress of his recovery from offseason surgery. Simmonds is in his final year of a team-friendly contract, and a return to form on a team that appears to be much deeper than the one he fronted two seasons ago could say a lot about how far this team can go.
Michael Raffl (6-0, 200): The incumbent in this fourth-line spot, the Austrian-born vet might have seen increased competition from natural right wing Nicolas Aube-Kubel before Aube-Kubel was sent to Lehigh Valley. The good news for Raffl is that he too has shown an ability to play either side, opening up the possibilities for him and a long list of end-of-the-roster hopefuls.