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Giroux Looking to Take the Next Step

by Al Alven / Philadelphia Flyers
(Voorhees, NJ) - Claude Giroux flashed the sly, almost devilish grin that is quickly becoming his trademark, as he eased back in his locker room stall. Just a few feet to his right, a throng of reporters and cameramen surrounded rookie James van Riemsdyk, who sat answering questions about his upcoming NHL debut after practice last week at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees.

"I'm really happy for James," said Giroux, while unwrapping the orange tape around his shin pads and firing the balled-up disposals across the room at any target he could find. Dan Carcillo took one right between the shoulder blades, but Giroux continued on, deadpan; giving no indication of his guilt.

"From the beginning of camp, really, [van Riemsdyk] has been one of our best players, and he deserves to make the team. I know he has a lot of family and friends coming out to the first few games, because he's from New Jersey. It's a really big deal for him."

Seemingly incredulous to the follow-up question about how much Friday's 2009-10 season opener at Carolina would mean to him, Giroux continued tormenting his teammates with tape bombs. Carcillo got nailed again, as did Darroll Powe. But when towering Chris Pronger strode across the room, Giroux, weapon in hand, resisted the temptation.
Claude Giroux takes a faceoff during a preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Wachovia Center on September 22, 2009. (photo by Jack Cassidy)

"Nah," he muttered to himself with a sour-faced expression, as Carcillo, now on to his teammates’ antics, let out a hearty chuckle.

Giroux sat quietly for the next few moments, pondering his feelings about the days ahead. His words, immediately, took on a more serious tone.

"Last year, I came into camp hoping to make the team as a rookie," he explained. "Things didn't work out, I just wasn't ready. I thought I was, but it wasn't time. This year, having the chance to start the season with the Flyers...yeah, it's a very big deal to me, too."

After missing the cut out of training camp in 2008-09, Giroux began his first full pro season with the Philadelphia Phantoms in the AHL (he made his Phantoms debut at the end of the previous campaign, after wrapping up a stellar junior career with the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL).

The then-20-year-old did not light the circuit on fire upon arrival, as some were expecting. But after a few weeks, he began to find his way.

As the season progressed, Giroux felt more and more comfortable with his soundings. By December, he had established himself as the Phantoms' most dangerous offensive weapon, and was also earning praise from coach John Paddock for his diligence and responsibility in the defensive zone.

"It was very good for me, and I learned a lot down there," Giroux assessed. "I learned that everything isn't going to be handed to you [in the pros] and how to prepare, like how to put a bad play or a bad game behind me, and move on from it; also, how to react after a scoring a big goal and having some success.

"Really, it's about what you do next that counts. Not what you've already done."

Giroux joined the Flyers in late December, after tallying 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) in 33 games for the Phantoms. Once again, his adjustment to a new team and a new level was not seamless; missing five games after suffering a concussion thanks to a vicious elbow by Anaheim's Corey Perry didn't help, either.

But, the more NHL games he got under his belt, the better the results. And the more ice time he subsequently earned, along with the trust of head coach John Stevens and his staff.

In early March, Giroux was reassigned to the Phantoms, but only due to salary cap constraints. At the time, Giroux had notched 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 21 games for the big club.

The pride of Hearst, Ontario would be recalled again just days later, returning to the NHL with a renewed focus. He would prove to be one of the team's most productive players down the stretch, recording 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in his next 21 games.

And, of course, every Flyers fan remembers what happened next. Despite a disappointing first round playoff elimination at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, Giroux shined in the postseason spotlight. He led the team with five points (two goals, three assists) in six games, and pulled off one of the highlight plays of the spring when he set up Simon Gagne for the shorthanded winner in Game 2.

"I think that was just a small taste of what Claude can offer," noted Briere. "Not just that play, but his performance late last season and into the playoffs. He's incredibly talented, and I think he's really going to make his mark over the next few seasons. You can't expect superstardom of any young player right away, and Claude has a lot of room to grow. Like any player, there are things he needs to work on.

"But, the tools are there. He has exceptional hockey sense and vision, and he makes very good decisions with the puck. He's so creative, which is important for a player like him."

Briere has heard comparisons between himself and Giroux since his teammate burst onto the scene last season. But, while he does see some similarities, he views their styles a bit differently.

"Claude, I will say this now, is a better pure playmaker than I am," he said. "I'm probably more of a hybrid forward, if that makes any sense. I like setting guys up, but I also look to bang the puck in around the net a little more. It'll be interesting to see if that develops in Claude's game. But, he sees the ice so well, and can find guys and thread the needle on a pass. That's his biggest asset right now, at least from an offensive perspective."

Another welcome attribute has been Giroux's willingness to not only listen to advice from Briere and the team's other veterans, but to seek them out.

"You know, you'd think you'd always see that from young players, but you don't," explained tough guy Arron Asham. "Claude has come to me with questions. He's very eager to learn and hear about different things. He won't hesitate to ask anything.

Added Giroux: "If you look around this room and you take a look at the veteran players on this team, I think you'd be crazy not to try to learn all you can from them. Briere, Gagne, Carter, Richards, Hartnell... there's a lot of experience here, and everyone has been very helpful to me, helping me get started last season and giving me advice so far.

"I'll even go to the defensemen for advice. Why not? Timonen, Pronger…there are guys who have been through the wars. Everyone has something to offer and you can learn from all of it. Anything to help make me a better player, that's always my goal."

As the only players to appear in all seven of the Flyers' preseason games this September, Giroux and van Riemsdyk were given every opportunity to impress. They did so, and were officially added to the team's season-opening lineup last week and have helped the team to a pair of road wins to open the season.

For Giroux, who was a lock to make the team this year, the question is whether he can take his game to the next level and build off of the success he had as a rookie.

"I'm taking absolutely nothing for granted," he said. "I can't afford to. There's too much talent in this organization to not think that your spot will be gone if you don't step up. I gained a lot of confidence [last season], which was huge for me. But, that's in the past now.

"My goal is to take that next step. Sure, I want to become a top player in this league and be viewed as one of the best. But I'm here to do whatever is asked of me. That's how I'm looking at my role. Whatever I can do to help the team win, I will. Anything."

In the meantime, there's always room for some locker room madness. As the bundles of tape continued to zing through the air...

"Hey, no matter what, you gotta stay loose too, right? You have to have fun," Giroux concluded, smiling again and winking in the direction of Carcillo, who promptly rolled his eyes as he walked away ever so cautiously.
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