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It wasn't that long ago when former NHLer Keith Jones, now a national broadcast analyst, used to have to initiate discussion about promising young Philadelphia forward Claude Giroux.
Now, those conversations come to Jones.
Hey, did you see what Giroux did now?
|Claude Giroux has seven goals and five assists in 12 games so far this season for the Flyers.|
Just a month into the NHL season, Giroux has proved to be more than worthy of such discussion with seven goals and 12 points in 12 games. He is tied for the league lead in game-winning goals (three) and leads the NHL in short-handed goals (three). If there were a stat for highlight-reel plays, he'd likely lead the league in that as well. All of which suggests the quiet 22-year-old from Hearst, Ontario, might be emerging as the most talented of a very talented crop of homegrown Flyers players.
Giroux will take a four-game points streak into Thursday's tilt against Atlantic Division foes the New York Rangers, a span during which he's scored four times and added three assists.
Giroux's evolution is interesting, yet not completely unexpected. Yes, there's the indelible image of then-GM Bob Clarke momentarily forgetting Giroux's name at the NHL draft in 2006, when the Flyers chose the forward with the 22nd overall pick. But that's a footnote to what Giroux has achieved in the past calendar year.
When Flyers coach Peter Laviolette arrived mid-last season after a tepid start cost John Stevens his job, Giroux was a complementary player, deep in the shadows cast by sniper Jeff Carter, young captain Mike Richards and top-line veterans Danny Briere, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen.
"He was kind of a second wave of offense. A second wave of help," Laviolette told ESPN.com.
But when the playoffs began and top players Simon Gagne and Carter were out with injuries, it was Giroux who was among a clutch of Flyers who seized the moment. Giroux scored 10 postseason goals and added 11 assists as the Flyers made an unlikely charge to the Stanley Cup finals.
Instead of fading into the background as so often happens to young players who have a spasm of success, Giroux has become the Flyers' go-to guy when they need a big goal.
"He's picked up where he's left off. I just think he's going to become better and better," Laviolette said. "He's become one of those guys who won't really take a backseat to anyone now. He sees the ice as well as anyone on our team."
Here's an indication of how valuable Giroux is to a team that has all the tools to make another long playoff run in the spring. When they are healthy, the Flyers are loaded with talented centers, yet Laviolette generally leaves Giroux at center and moves someone like Carter to the wing. That's not to say Giroux cannot play the wing; he has, at times, moved up to play with Richards when Laviolette thinks the team needs a spark.
But Laviolette's trust in Giroux to win a key faceoff and play smart defensive hockey to get things done at the most important of forward positions is a reflection on the young man's growing maturity.
Jones recalled several Flyers goals this season that directly resulted from Giroux's work in the offensive-zone faceoff circle.
"It shows you that he's always thinking," Jones said. "He can make you look bad."
It was during the latter stages of last season when Jones said he saw Giroux's confidence increasing, saw him willing to take risks offensively without fear it would cost him ice time or positioning on the roster. Those risks were rewarded more often than not, and that confidence has resulted in a point-per-game pace through his past 35 games, including the playoffs.
With his size and deceptive strength, he is extremely difficult to knock off the puck. In fact -- and this is where it gets interesting -- Giroux's play this season reminds Jones of a former teammate, Peter Forsberg.
The idea that Giroux had that kind of potential isn't new. The comparisons came up back in 2008-09, when he had nine goals in 42 games as a rookie call-up from the AHL. But if those early comparisons were wildly premature, Jones said what he sees now suggests they may not be so far off base.
"It's not unrealistic that he could become that good," Jones said. "There are a lot of comparisons to be made. That's how far he's come in a short time."
Laviolette understands that such comparisons are a mug's game. Agree, and maybe the expectations of a player get out of whack; disagree, and maybe you hurt a player's confidence. When asked about Forsberg, the coach notes that, like the great Swede, Giroux is smart defensively and gets the call in all situations.
"Every coach wants a player like [Giroux] on his bench because he's so multifunctional," Laviolette said.