Giroux's faceoff practice paying off for Flyers

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Giroux's faceoff practice paying off for Flyers

One of the more startling stats following the Flyers' tense 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay on Tuesday was individual faceoffs.
 
Claude Giroux won 72 percent of his draws. He was a perfect 7 for 7 against righthander Steven Stamkos and won 6 of 9 from lefty Vinny Lecavalier.
 
“Didn’t know that,” Giroux said.

As of Wednesday, Giroux had taken the highest number of faceoffs in the league -- 242 -- with the best percentage of anyone who had taken more than 230 draws -- 55.4 percent.
 
Recall he led the team last season at 53.7 percent -- the only Flyer regular over 50 percent.
 
“It’s something that I have been working on a lot lately,” Giroux said. “It’s going to be up and down during the season.
 
“You have stretches where the bounces don’t go your way. The puck hits the ref's skate and doesn’t go on your side. Right now, I will take them for sure.”
 
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he sees nothing really different about Giroux in the circle, other than maturity.
 
“As you get older and stronger and more experienced with the people you are taking faceoffs against, that can improve you through the course of time,” Laviolette said.
 
While Giroux is strong on the draws, overall, the Flyers as a team remain rather poor, ranked 27th in the league at 46.5 percent.
 
There was some genuine concern over the summer about Giroux’s faceoff ability this season following dual wrist surgery.
 
The assumption was that he had taken a couple slashes from Sidney Crosby during the Pittsburgh series in the playoffs.
 
While that was true, Giroux said it was actually something more basic that had occurred before that series.
 
“I went into the boards a couple times and rolled my wrists a couple times,” he said. “But it had been like that since junior. I wasn’t sure how the process would go with the rehab and such. It went very well and I had a good doctor (Thomas Graham), which made it easier.”
 
Even though he played a month in Germany during the lockout, Giroux didn’t know what to expect once the real games began in the NHL again.
 
“A month there, and knock on wood, I haven’t had any problems with it since,” he said. “I’m happy everything went well.”
 
Through 10 games, Giroux, who is right-handed, has been 65 percent or better three times. Ironically, his worst game came at Florida in late January when he won just four of 18 draws, and got cleaned by Tomas Kopecky, who was a perfect 8 for 8 against him.
 
Thursday night, Kopecky, a lefty, figures to matchup a few times in the circle once again with Giroux.
 
“Obviously, you look to see if he is a righty or lefty before a game,” Giroux said. “You see how he tries to win a faceoff. Yesterday, I was good on faceoffs, but I am going to have some bad games. [Tonight], who knows?”
 
Just like his teammates, Giroux has struggled to find consistency in the early going of this shortened season. He has just three goals and six points on a Flyers' squad that is goal-starved at the moment.
 
“Up and down,” was how he rated his season.
 
“Personally, I think I can play better. It’s just a process right now. We’re getting everyone on the same system and having fun doing  it. There’s a lot hockey left to play.”
 
Of the Flyers' shallow 23 goals, almost a third of them came during that 7-1 rout of the Panthers on Jan. 26.
 
Defensively and in goal with Ilya Bryzgalov, the Flyers have played well. A few more goals and the Flyers wouldn’t be looking up at nearly everyone else in the Eastern Conference right now.
 
“It’s funny, 10 games in, we’re looking at the standings every day,” Giroux said. “It’s going to be tight till the end. One win or one loss can be eighth place or 14th place. Every game is very important.”
 

Ron Hextall, Flyers know what they have in Nolan Patrick

Ron Hextall, Flyers know what they have in Nolan Patrick

CHICAGO — Ron Hextall had no idea which way New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero was leaning.

Would Shero take Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier with his No. 1 pick?

"I asked Ray 10 minutes before he picked and he wouldn't tell me," Hextall said. "I give him credit. That is what he should have done … I didn't have an expectation one way or the other."

Shero wanted a dynamic player to put bodies in the stands at Prudential Center. He chose Hischier.

That made it easy for Hextall at No. 2 to select Patrick (see story).

If rumors were true that Shero was scared off by Patrick's several injuries this past season at Brandon, well, the Flyers weren't.

"What I believe, we gather a lot of information," Hextall said. "There's some stuff out there you want to prove wrong and we did. We're comfortable with the injury part of it. He is a really good young man."

Patrick is a two-way player and a natural center. The Flyers have seven centers right now (see story), including Patrick, who is expected to play now. 

Hextall said he doesn't envision switching Patrick to the wing.

"I would rather have too many centers rather than five wingers on each side and no one to go in the middle," Hextall said.

Interesting that German Rubtsov, last year's top pick for the Flyers, has already been converted to a left winger since coming to North America to play junior.

Will Patrick be a No. 1 center as scouts project?

"Nolan has to answer that," Hextall said. "We see a kid with a big body, extremely high hockey sense, really good skill set. You get drafted today? The work starts now and Nolan has to put the work in.

"This is another level … this is the National Hockey League. In September, he comes to camp. He needs a big summer."

Ron Hextall on Flyers' logjam of centers: 'Someone has to play the wing'

Ron Hextall on Flyers' logjam of centers: 'Someone has to play the wing'

CHICAGO – The Flyers already have a familiar problem coming out of this NHL draft and heading training camp next fall: they’re too deep at center.
 
Friday night, they added three centers and traded another.
 
Brayden Schenn was sent to St. Louis for the Blues’ 27th pick in the first round, plus a conditional 2018 first-round pick and veteran utility center Jori Lehtera (see story).
 
General manager Ron Hextall wanted to trade back into the first round late and he did so by tabbing Morgan Frost at No. 27 with that Blues’ pick.
 
NHL Central Scouting had Frost ranked 31st among North American skaters. He is a 6-0, 170-pound forward from Aurora, Ontario.
 
He has raw speed and skill, but scouts say other parts of his game will need time to fill out. Frost had 20 goals and 62 points for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL this past season.
 
Friday’s other first-round pick, Nolan Patrick, is a natural centerman. Patrick is expected to play in the NHL this season. So right now, the Flyers’ centers are Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Mike Vecchione, plus Patrick and now Lehtera.
 
Lehtera had 30 goals and 100 points in 218 games with the Blues. He was both a first- and second-line center for the Blues this past season despite weak numbers — seven goals and 22 points in 64 games.
 
He is a decent playmaker and two-way player, who has centered Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.
 
“He is utility guy with a well-rounded game and can play in the middle,” Hextall said. “We like the player. Gives coach more options.”
 
Best option: Lehtera can move to left wing if needed.
 
“Someone has to play the wing,” Hextall said. “He can play the wing. Our scouts have seen him play the wing, but he plays center most games. I am assuming he prefers center like most of them. Someone has to play wing.”
 
Schenn had improved every year he was with the Flyers, but too much of his scoring is on the power play and not five-on-five. He had 109 goals and 246 points in 424 career games for the Flyers.
 
This deal seems strange unless you consider the Flyers got another first-round pick (Frost) and a top-10 protected, conditional first-rounder next year. The Blues have the option to defer the 2018 first-rounder to 2019 but if they do so, the Flyers will also receive the Blues' 2020 third-round pick.
 
“It was a combination,” Hextall said of the advantages’ from the Flyers side. “It was one of those [trades] that came out of nowhere. Not like we were shopping Brayden.
 
“This deal came along and we really like the draft next year. We like the late pick this year and Jori. It made sense and we got a couple more young players.”
 
Young players like Frost, whom the Flyers are excited about.
 
“Our whole staff really liked the guy,” Hextall said. “He’s an extremely intelligent player, his No. 1 asset. Really smart. Reads the ice well. He has a very deft touch moving the puck.
 
“Good two-way player who showed up good in the testing. We believe he is a kid with a lot of upside. Good speed, but he dissects the game better than most players.”
 
Frost’s father Andy was the longtime former Toronto Maple Leafs PA announcer.
 
“I talked to them a couple times,” Frost said. “I’d say I had a bit of a gut feeling. I wasn’t too sure, but they took me and I’m super happy about it.
 
“I think first and foremost I’m a playmaker. I think I’m a high-skilled player that likes to use his vision and hockey sense to create plays. I’m working on becoming more of a two-way forward. That’s more of the player I want to become.”