John Smallwood: Rookie Giroux showing Flyers he has staying power

Posted: March 11, 2009

THE ONLY thing less popular than trading right winger Scottie Upshall and a second-round draft pick to the Phoenix Coyotes was the reason why Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren decided to do it.

It wasn't that Holmgren felt left winger Daniel Carcillo was worth the price. In fact, most Flyers fans would have considered the deal a loser had it been Upshall for Carcillo straight up.

But the Flyers were so pushed against the salary cap that Holmgren needed the extra $350,000 - the difference between Upshall's and Carcillo's salaries.

Before the trade deadline, the Flyers had to sit defenseman Kimmo Timonen because he had the flu.

To bring a defenseman up from the Phantoms to replace him, the Flyers had to send dynamic rookie Claude Giroux down to create enough salary space.

Looking toward the season's stretch run, the Flyers knew that would continue if they lost any more defensemen.

Having Giroux potentially yo-yo between the NHL and AHL to make salaries work wasn't something the Flyers wanted to do.

So in a roundabout way, what the Flyers actually did at the trade deadline was move Upshall for Carcillo and gain the security of knowing they could keep Giroux on the roster should they have to replace another defenseman.

And the more you see of Giroux, the more you understand why the Flyers felt that was a good thing.

Although he's played just 27 NHL games, Giroux, 21, is showing that he is one of those "it" players - one about whom you say, "I'm not sure what it is, but whatever it is, he has it."

In the closing seconds of the first period in last night's 5-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, Giroux got a puck from Mike Richards and quickly snapped a marvelous pass across the goal mouth to Scott Hartnell who was streaking in on Sabres goalie Patrick Lalime.

Hartnell's goal tied the game at 1-1 and sent the Flyers on their way.

The play wasn't as pretty as Giroux's first NHL goal, the one he scored from a ridiculously sick angle against the Florida Panthers on Jan. 27.

But when it was done, it still made you exhale, "Wow."

"After you play a lot of games, you get more comfortable up here," said Giroux, the 22nd overall pick in the 2006 NHL draft. "It also helps when your linemates are playing well.

"Right now, I'm just working hard, trying to add some energy to our team and help any way that I can to create momentum. Right now, it's working. Obviously, I still have a lot to work on, but I'm just trying to go to the rink every day and get better."

On a team with an NHL-leading six players with at least 20 goals, the Flyers certainly aren't lacking in scorers.

Still, a team can never have enough guys who snap a net.

And if Giroux can replicate even a semblance of the production he had last season - when he set a Canadian junior hockey league record by recording 51 points (17 goals and 34 assists) in 19 playoff games for Gatineau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League - he will be valuable to the Flyers as they finish the last 17 games of the regular season and head into what they hope will be a long run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"Since he's been up, he's made some plays that kind of wow you a little bit," coach John Stevens said. "He's working on becoming a better defensive player, but what I like is that if he makes a mistake, he can still bounce back so that a bad shift doesn't turn into a bad period."

Again, on a team as deep with offensive players as the Flyers, Giroux isn't yet a guy they have to rely on for production. But he has shown flashes of brilliance, enough that the organization knows he is a player it wants to keep around for the experience to be gained from being in a playoff race.

"That's what I'm trying to do," said Giroux, who has five goals and eight assists. "I want to prove to them that I can stay up.

"Every game, I'm trying to improve and show them that I am actually getting better each game. I think I can keep going like this. I just have to have the right attitude."

It appears that the opportunity is certainly going to be there. *

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