Inside the Flyers: Just call him a 'franchise player'

Center Claude Giroux is rapidly becoming a dominant force in the NHL with his dazzling skills.
Center Claude Giroux is rapidly becoming a dominant force in the NHL with his dazzling skills.

Giroux has developed into a force.

Posted: November 07, 2010

Before we talk about young Flyers center Claude Giroux's turning into a superstar before our eyes, let's go back to 2005, Ryan Howard's rookie season with the Phillies.

Back then, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was asked if the lefthanded-hitting slugger reminded him of anyone.

"A little like Willie Stargell," Manuel said.

Since Stargell was a Hall of Famer who had been one of the game's best long-ball hitters, Manuel could see his comment was met with surprise.

"I'm not saying he's going to be Willie Stargell," Manuel said. "I'm saying he reminds me of him because of the way he hits for power the opposite way."

All of which is a roundabout way of getting to the 22-year-old Giroux, who, like Howard, drew gaudy comparisons in his rookie season.

In March 2009, Flyers winger Simon Gagne raised eyebrows when he compared Giroux, then 20, to Peter Forsberg.

"There's a lot of Peter in him. He's very good at handling the puck and he's got that vision," Gagne said at the time. "He's not a shooter and he's going to try to make that play first. He likes to pass and make plays. That's what Peter was good for. He's very good at keeping the puck and drawing people to him or beating them one-on-one."

Like Manuel's comment, it seemed a bit of hyperbole.

Not anymore.

Like Howard - who has hit 253 homers in his first six seasons, compared with 136 for Stargell in the same time frame - Giroux is becoming one of the dominant players in his profession.

The player they call "G" leads the Flyers with seven goals and 14 points entering Saturday's game against the New York Islanders. He didn't score his seventh goal last year until Dec. 17.

And to think that this was a player whose name then-general manager Bob Clarke momentarily forgot when he walked to the podium and was announcing the Flyers' No. 1 pick - 22d overall - at the 2006 draft in Vancouver.

"I thought it was pretty funny," Giroux said with a shy smile.

Now Giroux's name is known around the NHL. Now he is becoming the face of the Flyers because of his uncanny passing, skating, and finishing ability.

Entering Saturday, Giroux had multi-point performances in four of his last five games. He leads the NHL with three shorthanded goals, and he is tied for the league lead in game-winning goals (three) and tied for sixth in goals.

Can you say franchise player?

In 2008-09, the 20-year-old Giroux played about half the season with the Flyers and produced nine goals in 42 games.

In 2009-10, he had a mediocre regular season, collecting 16 goals and 31 assists. But he had a coming-out party in the playoffs, erupting for 10 goals and 11 assists in 23 games as the Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Finals.

"He's somebody we count on to play in every situation," coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's proving himself to be a clutch player. He had big games in the playoffs, big games when you need a performance out of somebody. He's someone who seems to be stepping up."

Giroux scored what proved to be the game-winner in the shoot-out against the New York Rangers in the last game of last year's regular season. That 2-1 win enabled the Flyers to earn a playoff berth and seemed to instill a carefree, we-have-nothing-to-lose attitude among the players.

Especially Giroux.

"Once the playoffs started, everybody gets a new lease on life and it's a chance to write your own story on how you want to be seen as a hockey player," Laviolette said. "I thought he did a terrific job in the playoffs for us last year, and it has just kind of carried over."

Said Giroux, who led both teams with six points and with a plus-7 rating in the Finals against Chicago: "I had a pretty good playoffs and I started having fun - and that's when I play my best."

This season, you can see his confidence grow as he gets more creative in each game.

Still, despite his terrific start, Giroux seems almost embarrassed when the Forsberg comparisons are mentioned.

"To be compared to a great player like Peter is very nice, but I don't think I come close to what he was," Giroux said the other night. "He was a very good player. He won a lot of battles and he was always on the puck. He was one of the strongest guys on the puck."

In 12 NHL seasons, Forsberg had 249 goals and 636 assists for 885 points in 706 games.

Giroux (5-foot-11, 181 pounds), who is much smaller than the 6-foot, 205-pound Forsberg, is deceptively strong on the puck, but he is crafty in the corners and, more times than not, wins a board battle.

"I feel more comfortable than last year, obviously," said Giroux, whom Wells Fargo Center fans frequently serenade with ROOOOOOOOOO chants after he scores or makes one of his how-did-he-do-that plays. "Everything is going well."

So well, in fact, that general manager Paul Holmgren has started informal contract talks with Giroux's agent. Giroux can become a restricted free agent after the season, but he is not going anywhere.

You don't let a franchise player get away - even if you forgot his name when you drafted him.


Inside the Flyers:

Read Sam Carchidi's Flyers blog, "Broad Street Bull,"

at www.philly.com/flyers.

Blog response of the week

Subject: Claude Giroux.

elpel

I was at the game last night, and Giroux's just a freak of nature. Sign him until he's 90. He'd probably still be able to deke.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi

at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.

Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BroadStBull

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