Two years ago in Philadelphia, the ball labeled "Flyers" was clearly dropped. A team with too many injuries and not enough talent spiraled out of control and landed at the very bottom of the NHL's standings.
After just one offseason, the ball seemingly bounced back with, as the slogan says, a vengeance. The Flyers' appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals last season was a shocker, though many didn't treat it as such. And that success may not be all that positive in a city whose loyal hockey fans will expect nothing less than a return appearance this coming season.
Is that probable? That's yet to be seen, but one piece of the puzzle that may help the Flyers reach that goal is 20-year-old Claude Giroux.
Giroux, selected 22nd overall in the 2006 entry draft, performed well in last season's training camp and even made a brief appearance in the NHL last season (two games as a Flyer in which he didn't register a point).
Despite his training camp success, it was said that General Manager Paul Holmgren preferred to have the young winger hone his skills with the Gatineau Olympiques in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Gatineau certainly appreciated that plan, given that in 55 games, Giroux netted 38 goals and 68 assists for a total of 106 points in the regular season. That was good for second overall in the league.
On top of his regular season performance, Giroux was spectacular in the postseason, putting up a league-leading 51 points in 19 games to lead Gatineau to victory in the President's Trophy. This certainly will bode well for Giroux's chances of playing with the Flyers this coming season.
Known for his vision and playmaking ability, Giroux is skilled at threading the needle and has a knack for turning seemingly harmless plays into scoring chances. A plus for the Flyers is that the once smallish winger has put on some weight.
Giroux is 5'10" and weighs about 184 pounds, up from a lean 169 two summers ago. This will certainly help him in the NHL, especially since he seems to enjoy doing the dirty work to dig out a puck and doesn't mind taking a hit to make a play.
If his current development continues to trend upwards, he may be wearing a Flyers jersey for the bulk of the 2008-2009 season. It's a safe bet that whenever Giroux lands in Philadelphia for good, his hard work and deft passing could very well put him on one of the top two lines, making him a valuable contributor to the team’s future success.