When Philadelphia Flyers legend Bobby Clarke walked up to the podium at General Motors Place in Vancouver during the first round of the 2006 NHL draft, it was doubtful that it even crossed his mind that he may well be announcing the name of a player who could one day sit second to him in the majority of franchise statistical markers. In fact, as has now been written into Flyers lore, Clarke could not even remember the young French-Canadian’s name.
However, by that point the Hearst, Ontario native must have gotten used to people not knowing his name. For Giroux, the fact he was even being picked in the NHL draft, let alone the first round, would have probably came as a great surprise to even him just a year previously. He had been passed over by every OHL team in multiple – 15 round – entry drafts, and in the summer 2005 he was a walk-on at the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques training camp. Sixth months after that he was their best player as an 18 year old on a team that included a 19 year old David Krejci, and was getting serious consideration for the first round of the draft. There have not been many players in recent history to have such a meteoric rise over such a short time span, and he was named to the CHL All-Rookie team in the lead-up to the draft.
If the Flyers’ brass had any doubts about the Simon Nolet inspired pick they would have completely evaporated within two years of the draft. By the summer of 2008 Giroux had posted two more 100+ point QMJHL seasons, made his NHL debut in his adopted hometown of Ottawa as an emergency re-call, won a WJC Gold medal as an integral part of the Canadian squad, and dazzled the hockey world in helping Gatineau win the President’s Cup as QMJHL Champions. His 51 points in just 19 QMJHL playoff games was 19 points more than any other player (his linemate Paul Byron was second with 32), and his +33 rating is still the QMJHL postseason record. Not bad for a kid who was considered too small to play in the OHL.
Within half a season of turning pro – after dominating the AHL with 17 goals and 34 points in 33 games – Giroux was a full-time Flyer, and he would never look back from there. In the ten seasons since that moment he rose to become one of the best players in the NHL, helping the Flyers reach a Stanley Cup final as one of the best players in the 2010 play-offs, becoming a Hart finalist, and being one of the three most productive players of the decade so far, after Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby.
There have not been too many players who have given Flyers fans more happy moments. From overtime cup-final game winners, to shootout goals to make the playoffs, to taking over a famous playoff series in one single shift and willing his often undermanned and underpowered side to the playoffs on multiple occasions.
It now seems just a matter of time before Giroux is second all-time in the Flyers franchise games played, assists and point’s lists, and he also passed Dave Poulin this year for second longest tenured Flyers captain after Clarke. Clarke captained the Flyers in nine seasons over two spans after Ed van Impe handed him the ‘C’ on January 17th 1973, clocking up approximately 600 regular season games with as Captain of the Broad Street Bullies. Giroux’s reign is currently 413 games, so barring something unforeseen he will pass Clarke in that regard sometime late in the 2019-20 season.
With his resurgence this season after a tough, injury marred 2016-17 season and a move to left wing to help the team, his achievements mean he is not just a future Flyers Hall of Famer, but is potentially on track to be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
People may scoff, but Giroux has always been a player who thrives in the face of adversity. Undersized wingers from the middle of nowhere who go undrafted in juniors are not supposed to make the NHL, and late first round picks are not supposed to go on to become franchise centermen; case in point, amongst centers drafted below 20th overall since 2000, Giroux is the only one to have multiple eighty point seasons.
There have been 48 forwards enshrined in the Hall of Fame in the post-expansion era who played a significant portion of their careers in the NHL. When you examine the era adjusted point-per-game rates of those 48 after their age 30 season, and compare Giroux, the results are quite favorable for him.
Being in between Bobby Clarke and Mark Messier on any list is a good place to be, and if Giroux finishes the 2017-18 season at his current pace he will pass both Clarke and Gilbert Perrault by years end. It would also be extremely difficult to make an argument that any of the 27 players ahead of him do not deserve their place in the Hall.
Of course, the majority of the players listed then continued to have good or solid careers after their 30th year, and a large number were still high end NHLer at the age of 35 or later. If Hall of Fame anointments were made at age 30 then Ilya Kovalchuk, Jeremy Roenick and Dany Heatley would all one day have a bust in situé in downtown Toronto. But we can only go off what has happened so far, and through Claude Giroux’s peak and prime he has been a Hall of Fame calibre offensive player. Furthermore, as a good penalty-killer and above average defensive player neither of these areas should hold him back when the time comes.
Giroux has many more feathers in his cap already as well. He has led the NHL in points over multiple five year spans – 2010-2015 and 2011-2016 – while also being top five in points-per-game over those two spans. Giroux also has an excellent individual playoff resume, rolling at almost point-per-game. Furthermore, he is heading for his fourth season as a top-10 point getter in the league, and this year will likely be his seventh inside the top-20 in the NHL. There is also an outside chance that the Flyers captain finished the 2010’s as the leading scorer of the decade, he currently sits in third, 14 points behind Patrick Kane and 11 behind Sidney Crosby.
With the Flyers increasingly blooding young talent and possessing one of the best, deepest prospect pools in the NHL, the next few years should see the team take the next step forward and be a contender. It seems certain that Giroux will be front and center of that as the leader of a youthful team. If this season is anything to go by we can expect to see a few more seasons of Claude Giroux excelling as one of the best forwards in the league, and hopefully, just hopefully, he will be the second Flyers captain to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup above his head in the not so distant future.
If anyone can will them to the Holy Grail in hockey it is the man who has spent his whole life defying the odds. Enjoy him for as long as you can Flyers fans, it may well be a long time until the franchise gets another Claude Giroux.