CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Dominik Simon had a pretty productive summer.
Simon was one of seven Penguins players to play in the top level of this summer's World Championship tournament, along with Matt Murray and Jared McCann playing for Canada, Patric Hornqvist and Marcus Pettersson for Sweden, Teddy Blueger for Latvia, and Evgeni Malkin for Russia.
Murray and McCann won silver medals in the tournament, and Malkin's Russian squad narrowly defeated Simon and the Czechs in a shootout for the bronze medal.
"It was a great tournament, it was fun," Simon told me of the experience after the Penguins' informal skate at the Lemieux Complex this week. "It was in Slovakia, close to the Czech Republic, so a lot of people were cheering there for us. It was an amazing tournament. It was good to see the boys that you haven't seen in a long time. We were sad that we didn't get a medal because we were really close, but overall it was a really good tournament."
Although the Czechs didn't accomplish their goal of winning a medal, Simon individually had a great tournament. He finished eighth overall in tournament scoring (and led all Penguins players) with four goals and eight assists in 10 games, while centering Jakub Voracek and Michael Frolik on the top line.
Averaging more than a point per game is obviously much different from his production during the NHL season, where he scored eight goals and 20 assists in 71 games. Simon was attempting a lot of shots during the tournament, and averaged 2.8 shots on goal per game, more than a full shot above his average of 1.7 shots on goal per game in the NHL last season.
So, what clicked in Worlds that wasn't clicking here?
"I'm not sure," he said. "It was going in, some chances. I don't think I had way more chances than I had before, it was just going in that time. You just got to keep shooting and keep working on the shot, and do the best for it so it can go in again."
Simon said he did focus a lot on "the weakest spots" of his game this summer, "definitely on the shot," from all areas of the ice. He also emphasized his skating in his offseason workouts, specifically his endurance in his skating.
The tournament was played on the larger international ice surface, which Simon did say changes things slightly, but said that it's only "a little different game." So crediting his scoring to the change in rink size wouldn't necessarily be accurate.
This tournament wasn't the first World Championship experience for Simon, either. He played for the Czechs in the 2015 tournament, playing in a top-six role alongside NHL talent, even seeing a few shifts with Jaromir Jagr. But even then, he only scored one goal and five assists in 10 games.
Something just changed this time around.
There isn't always much a player can take away from these short international tournaments, but for Simon, the experience helped his mental game. Simon has been honest before about how he feels about his shot, once flat out telling me in Wilkes-Barre that "I’m shooting bad right now," and telling me last season that "I better shoot, like, 5,000 pucks and see if it’ll change."
Being able to take on a large, first-line role with other NHL players and produce offensively at the rate he did helped his confidence, something he can carry with him into the coming season.
"It shows that I can play there," he said. "It was definitely good for me, it helps your game, helps your confidence for sure. It was nice to play with those players, but here I play with great players too," he said, looking toward the area of the locker room where Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel sit.
There's a decent chance Simon ends up back alongside those two on the top line at some point this season. Mike Sullivan told our Dave Molinari last week that "If (Simon) can find his scoring touch at the NHL level, I think Dominik could be a really dangerous player.”
The top line did see a lot of success with Simon on its wing last season, in terms of defensive play, shot production, and the ratio of goals scored vs. goals allowed. Still, people would understandably like to see Simon be able to finish more than he did if he's going to be playing in that spot, even if he does contribute to the line in other valuable ways.
If Simon can build off of that success he had over the summer, he might just be able to find his scoring touch at this level.
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