Claude Giroux has been lighting the lamp at every level he has played.

So it should come as no surprise that Giroux, 20, is leading the Phantoms in scoring as a rookie. Many had penciled Giroux into the Flyers' lineup from the start of training camp. When he was sent to the Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate, it was assumed that Giroux would be at the top of the call-up list in case of injury.

Meanwhile, teammates with considerably less impressive stats have been called up to the Flyers one-by-one, and Giroux has seemingly been the only one left out. Andreas Nodl, Jonathan Kalinski and Jared Ross have all donned the Flyers uniform this season.

While that perplexes fans and critics, it makes perfect sense to Flyers coach John Stevens. An NHL role without scoring opportunities wouldn't be conducive to Giroux's development; top-flight scorers need to put up points.

Giroux has done that with the Phantoms. His team-high 33 points in 17 games make him the highest-scoring rookie in the AHL.

"If you get an offensive player, they can't stay because they don't do the little things well," Stevens said last week. "Scoring doesn't matter [on the fourth line] . . . It is almost reversed.

"Besides, we can't bring Giroux up and not play him on one of the top three lines. If he is not going to get the playing time, then he needs to stay with the Phantoms and play.

"There is a process of integrating a young player into the NHL, and if we send him down we will be starting that process all over again."

Giroux might be traveling on the road to the show a little slower than he would have hoped, but he understands. The Flyers are incredibly deep offensively.

The Hearst, Ontario, native is noticing the benefits of playing time on all units: first line, power play, and penalty kill.

"The goal is to get better," Giroux said. "I am getting a lot of playing time, and I am playing in all situations.

"Of course, it was a disappointment not making the team. Anyone would be disappointed. This is an opportunity to learn. I just try to control the stuff that I can and get better."

While he has been put into a situation to succeed in the AHL, he has had to adjust on the fly to the step up his play from juniors.

"It was pretty hard at the start," Giroux said. "The guys are strong, but they are mature, too. Turnovers will really cost you here. Now after a little bit, I know exactly what to do to create my own opportunities."

Giroux is savoring his time in the AHL, because he knows that if he continues to perform at this pace he will force the Flyers' hand soon.

"It is nice to focus on just hockey," Giroux said. "Every day I wake up and I am excited to go to the rink and work hard."

Snap shots

The Flyers begin their longest road trip of the season tonight in Chicago, while "Disney on Ice" bunks at the Wachovia Center, where the Flyers are 10-0-2 in their last dozen games. The 5,165-mile trip that also heads to Columbus, Vancouver, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Washington before returning home is the longest in both distance and time (12 days) . . . With all teams enjoying a holiday break, Jeff Carter holds a two-goal advantage over Thomas Vanek (Buffalo) for leading goal scorer with 26 . . . Simon Gagne is tied for fourth in league scoring (with Carter) with 40 points. *

The Flyers begin their longest road trip of the season tonight in Chicago, while "Disney on Ice" bunks at the Wachovia Center, where the Flyers are 10-0-2 in their last dozen games. The 5,165-mile trip that also heads to Columbus, Vancouver, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Washington before returning home is the longest in both distance and time (12 days) . . . With all teams enjoying a holiday break, holds a two-goal advantage over (Buffalo) for leading goal scorer with 26 . . . is tied for fourth in league scoring (with Carter) with 40 points. *