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Minor adjustments paid off for Flyers' Giroux

CLAUDE GIROUX isn't really sure when it happened. But somewhere during the grind of the regular season, something clicked. For Giroux, a 21-year-old gifted scorer who can see the whole ice, it was all about putting the pieces together.

CLAUDE GIROUX isn't really sure when it happened.

But somewhere during the grind of the regular season, something clicked. For Giroux, a 21-year-old gifted scorer who can see the whole ice, it was all about putting the pieces together.

There is a good chance that happened under John Paddock, the first-year Phantoms head coach. Paddock was previously the head coach of the Ottawa Senators, Giroux's hometown team while playing junior hockey across the river in Gatineau, Quebec.

Many had Giroux penciled into the Flyers' opening-night lineup at the start of training camp in September. But by the end of the 3-week camp, the high expectations had dissipated. He simply wasn't NHL-ready yet.

And he knew it.

Now, looking ahead to next season, there is a palpable buzz surrounding Giroux. This time, it is warranted. He has shown he is for real.

"I was disappointed at first, but I was definitely not as good as I wanted to be," Giroux said of the move to the Phantoms early last season. "I think that being sent down was very important. I got a lot of ice time and I played in almost every situation.

"I played on the power play, the penalty kill, everywhere. It really helped my development - I was just trying to work on everything."

Rather than rush him to the big stage with a setup for a potential disaster, the Flyers took their time with Giroux, the team's 2006 first-round draft pick. It took Giroux 33 games - during which he scored at more than a point-per-game clip - before he forced the Flyers' hand.

"I think that playing for the Phantoms was critical for his development," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "He had these big expectations and playing in the NHL is a big step. He was clearly a better player when he came up.

"We knew that he could score and pass. You could see that his vision is unique. He had to develop an ability to play away from the puck."

The change in pace wasn't the only adjustment Giroux was making. In juniors, he had the ability to live with a host family in Gatineau, some 600 miles away from his home in Hearst, Ontario.

In Philly, Giroux was living on his own for the first time. Giroux and Phantoms defenseman Michael Ratchuk were roommates in an apartment in South Jersey.

"It was hard living on my own for the first time," Giroux said. "It was definitely a little bit of an adjustment. But after a few months I was able to get more comfortable and adjust to living in the United States."

On the ice, Giroux had trouble adjusting to going from mega minutes to role player in his first few games. In his first game this season, a 5-1 loss in Chicago the day after Christmas, Giroux was a woeful minus-2 in 12 minutes of ice time.

"You just want to prove yourself," Giroux said. "You try hard to get into the game and get into the flow, but it's hard when you're one of the last guys in."

But two games later, a 3-2 win in Vancouver, Giroux notched his first NHL point. He played more minutes (20:11) in that game than he would the rest of the season. He was also a plus-1.

It was that adjustment, defensively, that made a believer out of Stevens. Giroux finished the regular season as a plus-10.

"He earned my trust pretty quickly," Stevens said. "He killed penalties for us and he produces offensively. He is a player that doesn't take a huge amount of risks. He plays both ends, and that's what you want.

"I think the thing that impressed a lot of the coaching staff was that young players usually have drop-offs. With Claude, there was no real drop-off. Some games were better than others but we didn't see any drop-off."

Whatever expectations Giroux entered camp with in September had worn off by the time he was called up in December. Flyers fans weren't expecting too much then. And with an impressive 27 points in 42 games, Giroux largely flew under the radar for the remainder of the regular season.

But that all changed in the playoffs.

How far the crafty, 5-11 forward had come was apparent in a two-point performance against the Penguins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Not only did Giroux score a pretty goal, he picked off a puck on the penalty kill and patiently waited to find Simon Gagne parked against the goal post. It was a pass that Stevens said few could make. Giroux also dropped the gloves to give Tyler Kennedy a run for his money.

But both Stevens and Giroux know there is work still to be done.

"I'm going to spend a lot of time in Ottawa doing the same thing I did last summer, working hard and getting stronger," Giroux said. "I can't wait to get back to town and get ready for next year. It was great playing in front of the fans in Philly; you know they will support you."

Said Stevens: "He knows the game now. If he works as hard as he did last season and does his homework, he will be fine."

Homework. It's easy to forget Giroux is that young.*