It is almost September which means the fantasy hockey season is fast approaching. To prepare for the upcoming season, I will be previewing a player per day until the first drop of the puck.
The first player I will forecast is someone who I have been trying to educate myself with all summer long – Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers. The reason being is that he is on my own fantasy keeper team and I have been trying to decide whether or not he should be kept over the likes of Shane Down, Patrick Marleau, Danny Briere, Andrei Markov or Devin Setoguchi. From what I have read and how he finished the season, I think I will be keeping Giroux.
Going into last season, he was expected to make the squad and contend for the Calder Trophy. However, after a lackluster training camp, he was sent to the team’s AHL affiliate, Philadelphia Phantoms. After scoring 34 points (17 goals) in 33 games, Giroux was called up to the big club, where he tallied 27 points (nine goals) in 42 games.
By all accounts, he had a decent rookie regular season. However, if you look at his NHL point totals more closely, they are more impressive. Specifically looking at the tail end of the season, more specifically the final 13 games of the season. This is when Giroux inherited a decent winger in a healthy Danny Briere, earned trust from the coaching staff, was able got his feet wet and learned how to play at the NHL standard. At this point, he was arguably the best Flyers’ skater.
During this span of 13 games, he scored 12 points (four goals) and was playing 14-15 minutes per night with Danny Briere, who had 16 points during the same period.
During the first round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Giroux led the Flyers with 5 points in 6 games. This series was Giroux’s breakout moment, as he showed great skill and also played in every situation. He was easily the Flyers’ best player.
This is a very small scale sample size, but it shows what Giroux is capable of when given more responsibility.
This season, I expect Giroux to build on last season’s success. The emergence of Giroux made it easier for the Flyers to let Mike Knuble walk to Washington and trade Joffrey Lupul back to Anaheim. Those two players alone scored 52 goals last season – goals that need to be made up this season. Up to the task is Giroux, who is more than happy to fill the 52 goal void.
The skill and speed is unquestioned, but the major question around Giroux leading up the season will be where he plays.
In a recent interview with Chuck Gormley, Head Coach of the Flyers, John Stevens, said that he and the Flyers’ brass love Giroux playing the center ice position. This means that Giroux is likely to start training camp as the 3rd line center, with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter centering the first two lines.
Giroux’s wings are still up in the air. It would be interesting to see a Francophone line with Giroux centering Danny Briere and Simon Gagne, but a bonafide goal scorer like Gagne is likely to flank Richards on the top line. As mentioned, Giroux worked well last year with Briere. However, are the Flyers prepared to give their highest paid player 3rd line minutes?
I believe that the Flyers are committed to winning this year. If winning means sticking their $8 million man on the 3rd line with Giroux, then the coaching staff will do so. Having said that, even if Giroux and Briere play on the third line, they will still get at least 15 minutes of ice time per night. In addition, Giroux will get a lot of time on the power play as well as time on the penalty kill.
If the Flyers decide to put Briere on the top line with Richards and Gagne, Stevens has two options concerning Giroux. He can center Aaron Asham and Darrell Powe or play the wing on one of the top two lines.
Giroux is likely to start training camp centering the 3rd line. However, there are many things that can happen between training camp and the Olympic break, and Giroux has too much skill to stay outside the top 6 forwards. Therefore I am unfazed on where Giroux will play.
Taking into consideration all of this information, plus the fact that he has been working out with Danny Briere all summer and scored 25 points in games in a charity hockey tournament, I will forecast a moderate 23 goals, 39 assists, 62 points this season for Claude Giroux aka “Peter Forsberg with two healthy ankles.”
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