Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux entered the NHL brimming with offensive potential.
And while he hasn't disappointed anyone, there's been another side to his game that has been just as impressive.
"I think we all knew how good he was with the puck and the things he can do offensively, but the thing we're most pleased with is his responsibility without the puck and his ability against highly-skilled players," said Flyers coach John Stevens. "He's got that knack on the defensive side of things, so we're very happy with his progression and feel very comfortable with him in a lot of situations."
After being going unpicked in the 2005 Ontario Hockey League draft, Giroux accepted a tryout with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for 2005-06. He excelled, posting 39 goals, 103 points and a plus-30 rating in 69 games, earning Rookie of the Month twice and a spot on the league's All-Rookie Team.
The Flyers took notice and drafted the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Hearst, Ont., native with the No. 22 selection in the 2006 Entry Draft. He followed his strong QMJHL rookie season with another outstanding campaign in 2006-07, totaling 48 goals (including 20 on the power play) and 112 points. He had 38 goals and 106 points in 55 games with Gatineau last season, which was interrupted for a two-game emergency call-up to the Flyers.
"I think (Gatineau) did prepare me for the NHL, especially my last year (2007-08), because I played almost 30-35 minutes a game and was used in every situation," Giroux told NHL.com. "I was playing the power play and on the penalty kill and was playing against the top line on the other team. I knew I had to learn how to play defensively, and right now I'm trying to work on that part of my game."
On top of the gaudy offensive numbers, he had a plus-40 rating. He was named to the QMJHL All-Star Team and was a Canadian Major Junior First-Team All-Star. He also represented Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, notching 2 goals and 6 points in 7 games.
He started this season with the Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms, but has been a mainstay in the lineup since March 3. With 5 goals, 15 points and a plus-7 rating in 28 games, he's provided coaches, teammates and fans a glimpse of what is sure to be a promising future.
"I think all year we've kind of focused on our depth and how much we have and Claude is just another offensive weapon for us," said Flyers captain Mike Richards. "Everyone knew how offensive he was, but I also saw a very defensive-minded player knowing the importance of taking care of his own end."
There was something else that caught Richards' eye.
"He's a physical player and plays with a little bit of an edge and I like that," he said. "We're definitely excited to have him on the team."
Giroux, who averages more than 15 minutes of ice time per game, has moved between center and the wing and has played with different linemates, but he's fine with that. Currently he's centering a line with Danny Briere and Daniel Carcillo, but earlier in the season he skated on the wing on a line with Richards and Mike Knuble.
"I really learned a lot from Mike (Richards) because every time I got back to the bench, he would talk to me and offer some tips," Giroux said. "I just have to worry about what I can control and that's how I play on the ice. I'm having a blast right now so hopefully I can keep working hard and having fun."
Stevens can sense Giroux is becoming more comfortable with each game.
"I think when you're known as an offensive player, you come in here thinking you have to do things offensively to stay here," Stevens said. "In Claude's case, we know he's a good offensive player, but we need him to be a good two-way player. He's here because he's been accountable on both sides of the puck."
Braydon Coburn, who is second among Flyers defensemen with 23 points, also has noticed Giroux's improved play.
"You got a sense in training camp and at the beginning of the year of his great offensive abilities, and each game he's gaining more and more confidence," Coburn said. "He's a creative guy and he's using all his talents and that's the biggest thing. He's able to see things out there that not a lot of other guys can see and he's able to make plays because he has great instincts. He's playing his game right now by carrying the puck and bringing guys to him. He's becoming the playmaker we all knew he could be."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.