Good things take time; that’s just the way it is. As much as it might pains them to do it, coaches of the National Hockey League have to resist the urge of sending in boys to do the work of men–this is a reference to experience and readiness, not their manhood. Rushing prospects into a club is risky because it throws instant pressure on them and there is the very real possibility that they are not properly prepared. While the process might be a little slow, development is the top priority to keep the interests of these players at heart. After all, the image of a highly tuned star in three to four years beats seeing someone become damaged goods because he was utilized prematurely.
With Claude Giroux, the Philadelphia Flyers chose the patient approach. Selected in the 2006 Entry Draft, his progression was as follows: two more years in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with a two-game NHL stint squeezed in there, a rookie season in which he kept his composure adamantly and a sophomore year that can hardly be constituted as a slump, but he was nowhere close to his potential. While he wasn’t quite spectacular in the regular season, his magical play really shone through in the playoffs.
It’s interesting to consider that general manager Paul Holmgren could have easily tried his luck and experimented with Giroux in 2006. As you are probably aware of, the Philadelphia Flyers were the lowest of the low that year and their 56 points signaled the worst output for any club after the lock-out. Although Giroux may have sparked them to a few more victories, he would not have been able to save them from their fall. Smartly, Holmgren thought twice about it and didn’t resort to a desperate act.
Then, 2010 arrived and all bets were off. On opening night, the 23-year-old struck Pittsburgh with a shorthanded game-winning goal and rose to prominence as the days, weeks and months went by. You’d have been hard-pressed to see score-sheets without his name scribbled on them. Philadelphia’s firepower on offense placed a nervous feeling into goaltenders, as they threw wave after wave of threats onto the ice. Despite all of the notable names on the roster, it was becoming clear as daylight that Giroux’s presence was felt to the largest degree.
The term ‘multidimensional’ candidly summarizes the Ontario native’s game.
To observe him carrying the puck is just a joy, as it looks like he has it on a string and the defensemen cannot put a stop to it. He breaches the opposition’s blue line and sets up the powerplay almost too simply because players are timid towards charging after him. When they do decide to take the initiative, Giroux can weave around them smoothly like very few others who have that panache at their disposal. Lesson learned Erik Condra?
His vision and wherewithal is sensational, as he senses what is happening during a play and is fully aware of the area of ice everyone is occupying. Some of the assists that he dishes out are somewhat unfair because you start thinking that he may have eyes in the back of his head. Seeing the play unfold before it actually does, Giroux’s hockey intelligence is top-notch.
But it’s his soft hands which make him extra dangerous because he can spot the open man and put the puck where it must be. In this league, the passes must be quick and direct; something Giroux does on a game-to-game basis. As inspiring as his distribution is, he can label the back of the net just as easily.
In Philadelphia, some would lead you to believe that he is far too hesitant to shoot the puck himself. It’s not that he is missing a potent shot, because he has that too, but rather that he is an unselfish player who is able to put individual achievement aside for his line mates. Don’t panic though; he only trails Phil Kessel in goals scored this year and is on target for 250 shots when all is said and done. That’s a mighty jump from his previous high of 169 shots on net.
On a break-away, he is as close to being a lock to score as anyone in this league and he can create the kind of magic which might have only been expected from Pavel Datsyuk not too long ago.
Having initially been combined with Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk,–Scott Hartnell has been bumped onto the line in place of van Riemsdyk now–Giroux has found dynamic chemistry with the legendary power forward. The addition of Jagr, and maybe his mullet in due time, gives Giroux a winger who can complement him and his playing style.
Coming off a two-goal, three point performance in Carolina, Giroux continues to turn heads–including Jagr’s.
“I love to play with him,” Jagr said. “I don’t want to say he’s the best in the league right now, but he’s top three for sure. I never thought that at the end of my career I would play with a guy like that.
“That’s what makes me happy. I want to play for him. All my years in the NHL, I always had guys play for me. I had Ron Francis. He was always trying to make sure he’s there for me every game and that’s what I want to be for (Giroux). He’s going to have a great year and I just want to help him.”
Suddenly, people are starting to realize why Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were traded to Los Angeles and Columbus respectively. Philadelphia’s management knew they had a superstar on their hands who would someday become the undisputed offensive leader and potentially one of the very best in the game. Those days have come and last season’s 76-point burst was merely the beginning.
Claude Giroux was the tip of Philadelphia’s spear in the regular season and playoffs of 2011, igniting their offense like no one else.
Get used to it.