Claude Giroux has quickly become a fan favorite in Philadelphia. His slick passing, tenacious forechecking, and elite vision have earned him the reputation of a future star. His Winter Classic jersey even broke the top 20 in overall NHL jersey sales this past season.
However, his statistical production has not yet matched his talent. His 47 points in 2009 was a bit of a disappointment after his fantastic postseason the previous year.
In 2010, Giroux impressed in the playoffs yet again, scoring 21 points in 23 games. But why is 2010 different from 2009? Will Giroux have his breakout regular season this year?
While Giroux was arguably the best Flyer during the team's 2009 series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he was playing in a playoff round that only lasted six games. The series helped build his reputation as a "clutch player," but it was still an extremely small sample size.
The 23-game playoff run in 2010 was a much larger body of work, and therefore, was much more impressive.
Giroux was one of the Flyers' top forwards throughout the postseason, impressing both offensively and defensively.
So far, he has carried his improved play into the 2010 preseason. He has four assists in four games, and has shown good chemistry with free agent acquisition Nikolai Zherdev.
His best game was likely Saturday night's matchup with the Minnesota Wild. With Jeff Carter and Mike Richards taking the night off, Giroux was far and away the Flyers' best player.
All that talent is turning into consistent domination on the ice.
Giroux's mediocre 2009 regular season was a result of numerous factors, from inconsistency to immaturity.
It didn't help that he spent a significant period of time playing with inferior linemates.
According to Dobberhockey.com, Giroux spent 16.1 percent of his even strength ice time with Arron Asham and James van Riemsdyk. That was his second most frequent line combination, behind only the Richards-Gagne-Giroux tandem.
Asham was a grinder who had never scored more than 15 goals in a season. JVR was a rookie fresh out of college, struggling to adjust to the pace of the NHL.
This season, Giroux will undoubtedly play with more skilled linemates.
While the regular season line combinations are not confirmed yet, the 2010 Flyers are a much deeper offensive team than last year's version.
Ville Leino established himself in the postseason as a legitimate top-nine forward. Nikolai Zherdev was signed to a one-year contract in the offseason. And it looks like Bill Guerin, currently on a tryout with the team, will end up on the opening day roster.
So far, Giroux has been often paired with Zherdev in the preseason. The Ukrainian has his defensive issues, but always has been a dynamic offensive weapon.
Giroux could be getting a 25-goal scorer to replace Asham as his right wing.
Van Riemsdyk could end up playing with Giroux again. But the left winger has bulked up in the offseason, and should improve in 2010.
Claude could also see ice time with Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, or Bill Guerin. Each player would be an improvement over the 2009 JVR or Asham.
This season, Giroux will not be dragged down by poor linemates.
During the 2010 postseason, the Philadelphia Flyers relied on Claude Giroux in almost every aspect of the game. He received significant power play, shorthanded, and late game ice time.
This should continue during the 2010 regular season.
During the 09-10 season, Giroux was fifth amongst forwards in power play ice time per game. But during the playoffs, he jumped to third, ahead of Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter.
With Gagne's departure, Giroux will be expected to be an anchor on the power play. More opportunity equals more points.
He also received significant time on the penalty kill as well, and he will join Mike Richards as the main shorthanded scoring threats for the Flyers in 2010.
Due to his extended postseason success, the Flyers will give Giroux every opportunity to be a top scorer this season.
With his talent, and with better teammates, Giroux can be expected to take full advantage.
A breakout year from the 22-year-old is coming. 60 points is a conservative estimate, but it's not unreasonable to believe that Claude Giroux, with more consistency, better linemates, and increased ice time, could become a point-per-game player in 2010.