The National Hockey League belongs to a group of the most unpredictable professional sports leagues in the world, and not just in terms of game results. From time to time, the pursuit of a roster spot among extraordinarily talented players generates Hollywood-like stories, which help make things even more exciting.
For instance, Martin St. Louis’ journey to the NHL is nothing short of spectacular. Because of his height, he slipped through the draft unnoticed. And despite all odds, not only did the legendary No. 26 crack the NHL, but he also went on to win the Stanley Cup, the Art Ross Trophy, the Hart Trophy, and the Ted Lindsay Award.
Another well-known example is Andrew Ference. After not receiving an invitation to the Central Scouting’s pre-draft fitness testing in 1997, he sent out a letter to every general manager in the NHL, trying to convince them he was a future NHL-caliber player. His effort paid off when the Pittsburgh Penguins picked him 208th overall in that year’s draft class. Ference later established himself as a solid NHL defenseman and even became the captain of the Edmonton Oilers.
Dominik Simon’s Journey
Dominik Simon had to work at least just as hard to make it to the best hockey league in the world as the two aforementioned players. At one point it even seemed like the 5-foot-11 forward was going to be just another name in a long line of undrafted Czech skaters. However, in 2014-15, much-needed luck shifted his way. Because of his great performance in the highest Czech league, the coaches of the national team offered him plenty of room to prove himself.
Also the same year, the IIHF World Championship was held in the Czech Republic. Everyone could feel the tension and excitement. Czech fans were ready for much-desired success. With the expectations set high, such a tournament presented a once in a lifetime opportunity to put a young player like Simon in the spotlight and possibly catch the eye of an NHL scout.
He is great at killing penalties and intercepts passes with ease. He gets in on the forecheck and pounces on opponents when they make a mistake.Mathieu Sheridan, Last Word on Hockey
Surprisingly enough, Simon made the roster stacked with names like Jaromir Jágr, Jakub Voráček, and Tomas Hertl. He played in all 10 games, registering a goal and six points. And even though the Czechs lost to the United States in the bronze medal game, the young playmaker exceeded expectations. Thus, Simon managed to grab the attention of NHL scouts and eventually got drafted in the fifth round in 2015 by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Simon spent his first full season overseas with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the American Hockey League. He stepped into the 2015-16 season with lots of energy and excitement, which transferred to the on-ice performance. In his first couple of weeks, Simon was producing nearly at a point-per-game pace. He didn’t quite keep the momentum though, but still finished the season with 25 goals and 48 points in 68 games. Subsequently, Simon also got the chance to hit the NHL ice three times and even registered his first point – an assist. A solid record for a rookie.
The coaches swiftly found out that Simon is a solid playmaker, but the Penguins had a lot of top-six talent to rely on and a player with his size and playstyle simply wouldn’t be a good fit for the more physically oriented bottom-six. Following another full season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2016-17 and 21 games in the AHL the season after, Simon finally achieved his dream. He, somewhat, solidified his spot on the Penguins’ roster.
Despite getting scratched a couple of times in the last two seasons, Simon was not sent back to the AHL. In that span, he totaled 15 goals and 50 points in 135 games. An interesting fact when you follow his game more closely is how he is capable of playing any given position. Versatility is what separates him from the pack.
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Throughout the time with the Penguins, Simon played nearly every position a forward can play. As a smart playmaker, he quickly developed some chemistry with the star captain Sidney Crosby, which brought him first-line minutes. Usually, though, he skated somewhere in the bottom-six, being relied on with defensive tasks like penalty kill. On top of that, Simon can play both wings and a center and is great at intercepting passes. In the 2019-20 season, he ranked second on the team in takeaways just behind Evgeni Malkin.
What the future holds for the 26-year-old is uncertain. He suffered an injury at the end of February in a game against the San Jose Sharks, had to undergo shoulder surgery, and is expected to return at the end of 2020. By that time, his contract will have been expired and the next important question is, will general manager Jim Rutherford want to keep the versatile forward?