The concussion changes the perception, just a little. Even if his recovery is complete, it is hard to forget a period of December days when just a slow turn on the ice left him feeling sick.
That was Claude Giroux's existence as the year neared its end.
That the feeling passed is to be celebrated. He can only hope that that the healing is complete, and that 2011 will be remembered for what it was.
That is, the year he became a star.
That is the word: star. As he sat down with his concussion, Giroux led the National Hockey League in points. If you look at point totals this year and last year, Giroux is in the top handful of NHL players. If you look at players under age 25, Giroux's total trails only that of Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos.
And the thing is, Giroux's is the most satisfying kind of development - because we all saw it. We didn't know, of course, when then-assistant general manager Paul Holmgren and his scouts chose Giroux with the Flyers' first pick in the 2005 draft. All we knew was that general manager Bob Clarke forgot the kid's name on the podium.
But once we saw him play, virtually all of us could sense what was coming. We just knew he was going to be great. The first time the words "Giroux" and "magician" appeared in a newspaper story around here was during the Flyers' rookie camp in 2006. It was obvious that long ago.
Giroux's ability to hold on to the puck for just that extra blink - and then to thread it through obstacles in another blink and get it to its target - have had us gawping for more than 5 years now. With increased ice time and responsibility - especially this year, with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter now gone - he has been even better.
It is what happened in 2011. Recovered now, it is a climb that Claude Giroux can only hope will continue.
- Rich Hofmann