Claude Giroux

Claude Giroux's left wing tryout heads to Madison Square Garden

Claude Giroux's left wing tryout heads to Madison Square Garden

VOORHEES, N.J. — Claude Giroux said he doesn't know what to expect.

The one thing we can expect is the left wing experiment to hit the Madison Square Garden ice.

Throughout training camp practices, the Flyers have dabbled with their top-line center shifting to the wing. They're now ready to try it in game action, head coach Dave Hakstol said Sunday, when the Flyers visit the Rangers Monday night for the fifth exhibition contest.

Giroux hasn't thought much of the move but he's been more than open to allowing the coaches to give it a test run.

"Hopefully get the puck a little bit more," Giroux said after practice. "We'll see.

"If it happens tomorrow and it goes well, it's obviously an option that we're going to look at this year."

In 2016-17, Giroux scored a career-low 14 goals for a full season. His 58 points marked a fourth straight drop-off. Despite playing all 82 games, he did not look or sound healthy for much of the season. At 29 years old, playing the wing could relieve some of the physical demands of playing center, both offensively and defensively. It could also free up Giroux for greater looks and alleviate the pressure to make plays, while instead creating and finishing from a separate perspective.

"Entering the zone, he's got so many different options," Hakstol said. "He's a guy that can make plays on his backhand entering the zone, he can open up the top of the offensive zone by taking — if there's soft ice available inside of the line, he can delay and make plays back through the middle. He's got so many options there that he's able to create because of his skill set. And defensively, coming off that left side, it's a good spot for him — coming out of our zone and through the neutral zone."

If all goes well Monday, how much would that change moving forward?

"Everything that we have in place has a purpose to it," Hakstol said, "and I'll leave it at that."

Giroux has played winger before in the past — and produced — so this switch is not new or a substantial adjustment. To him, it's all about simplifying.

"Game is still the same," Giroux said. "There's not much different to center and winger. Obviously breakouts, you're on the boards, but offensively, you're kind of all over the place, so it doesn't really matter."

During practice, Sean Couturier centered Giroux and Jakub Voracek on the first unit. That's the expected line for Monday night, although Hakstol said Sunday's practice combinations could differ from the ones they'll utilize in the game (more on the lines here).

With Giroux on the wing, an aspect to watch is the faceoff circle. How the position change factors into the number of draws Giroux takes is uncertain.

"I think that depends on the coach," Giroux said. "I think I'll obviously take faceoffs on the power play and then a couple on the PK. And on my strong side 5-on-5, I'm sure I'll be taking a couple. With the new rule, a lot of centermen get kicked out, so it's good to have me and Coots on one line."

As for everything else in regards to the wing, Giroux will know more once he has the answers to the questions.

"I can't really judge on it until I actually have a game under my belt," Giroux said.

The game evaluation begins at the Garden.

Flyers captain Claude Giroux appears to embrace move to wing

Flyers captain Claude Giroux appears to embrace move to wing

VOORHEES, N.J. — Dave Hakstol brought up the idea on Monday and Claude Giroux appeared to embrace it.

The Flyers' captain switched to left wing during Tuesday’s practice on a line with Jakub Voracek at right wing and Sean Couturier in the middle.

“That’s funny because I was pretty much a winger all my life,” Giroux said. “I started playing center when I became a professional. It’s hard to complain when you’re playing with Jake and Coots.”

“I liked it,” Voracek said. “He (Giroux) is a very powerful guy, so he always skates into the space on the ice when there’s an opening. I think as a line we’ve been working pretty good. We understand each other. It’s one of the looks Hak might try in the preseason. I wouldn’t read too much into it, but I don’t know, if it’s long term, that means we’re playing good.” 

Over the years, Giroux has found a comfort zone creating a shot off the left half board, especially off the team’s power-play setup, and towards the end of Tuesday’s practice, Couturier was feeding Giroux one-timer after one-timer. 

“We did a lot of drills where I was coming down the left side there,” Giroux said. “I can see the ice pretty good from there because you have the puck on your good side. It was actually a lot of fun. It’s not like I'm against it or I’m not happy with it if it makes the team better. I know we have a lot of centermen. I’m up for the idea for sure.”

The second part of the experiment involves Sean Couturier and whether this type of move could also open up his untapped offensive side. The Flyers' best defensive center, Couturier has consistently scored between 34 and 39 points in each of the past four seasons, but has failed to take the next step to prove he can evolve into a top-six role. Needless to say, the seventh-year center embraced playing with two highly-skilled linemates.

Especially Giroux.

“It’s been six years we’ve been here and we’ve never really played with each other," Couturier said. "We’ve kind of played with everyone else but each other. Me and G have some good chemistry. The little odd shifts here and there we’d have together we’d seem to create something and get some scoring chances, so hopefully, we can make this work.” 

Giroux grew accustomed to playing right wing when he first entered the NHL under head coaches John Stevens and later Peter Laviolette. With Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Danny Briere occupying the center spots, Giroux still found a way to thrive offensively as he scored 76 points to lead the Flyers in 2010-11, while also taking the second-most faceoffs on the team that season.  

“I think breakouts, when you’re on the right side for me, it’s easier to handle the puck and kind of chip it out and make a play, but offensively on the left side it’s a lot better," Giroux said. "When you come into the zone you got Coots going to the net and Jake on the weak side, I think it’s pretty exciting when you see that.” 

The decision to switch Giroux to wing also comes two days after Nolan Patrick turned in a solid effort in his preseason debut against the Islanders. If Patrick, who turned 19 years old on Tuesday, is to make the opening night roster in San Jose, California, it’s expected Hakstol will be forced to make some adjustments and rearrange some of his veterans up and down the lineup. So far in camp, Patrick, Valtteri Filppula, Couturier and Scott Laughton are the only ones who have not moved from their center positions.   

“I wouldn’t connect the dots to that (Patrick making the team) quite yet,” Hakstol said. “I think that’s too early of a connection to make. I think it’s obvious that we have a number of players that are good centermen. Jori Lehtera has jumped over to the left side for the first few practices and the first preseason game. Today, this gave us an opportunity to have Jori back up the middle, so no, I wouldn’t draw the connection directly towards Nolan Patrick at this point in time.” 

Giroux would not be the first established veteran to transition from center to wing later in his career, as the Flyers' captain mentioned Sharks forwards Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, two established centers who have also transitioned to the wing over the past few years in San Jose.

“They take faceoffs on their strong side and it's tough when you take faceoffs all game against the guy who’s on his strong side. It’s tough," Giroux said. "Maybe I’m not going to play one more shift on the wing, but that’s up to the coach, but I really liked it today.”  

We’ll see if the next experimental phase comes during Wednesday’s split-squad exhibition against the Islanders. With Hakstol coaching the team in Allentown, Pennsylvania, he would probably want to see firsthand how that line operates.

Health check
Wayne Simmonds missed his second straight day of practice Tuesday, suggesting that Monday’s absence was more than what Hakstol has termed “a maintenance day.” Players are rarely given days off during camp, but the Flyers would not elaborate any further regarding Simmonds' status. A team spokesperson said Simmonds is scheduled to skate with the team Wednesday morning, however, it’s not known whether he will play in one of the Flyers' split-squad games against the Islanders.

On the blue line
Sam Morin and Robert Hagg, the Flyers' top-two picks from the 2013 draft class, appear to have separated themselves even further from their fellow rookie prospects. Travis Sanheim was moved to the afternoon group and AHL veteran T.J. Brennan was brought over to the morning practice with the NHL regulars. 

“It was nice to play with these guys at a little bit higher pace,” Brennan said. “Who knows what they’re thinking, but I’m just trying to give them the best I got and hopefully they get a good impression.”

Coming off an All-Star season with the Phantoms in 2016-17, the Willingboro, New Jersey, native and lifelong Flyers fan hasn’t played in the NHL since suiting up with the Toronto Maple Leafs in April 2016. 

“I’ve just learned to focus that energy in different spots,” Brennan said. “This time a year ago there was a little more anxiety involved. Now I think throughout the entire organization they have an idea of who I am, how I play and maybe how I can fit in.”  

Lines and pairings
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise
Michael Raffl-Jori Lehtera-Matt Read
Colin McDonald-Scott Laughton-Taylor Leier

Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Sam Morin-T.J. Brennan
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Jori Lehtera's move, sweet connection, more

Zack Hill/AP Images

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Jori Lehtera's move, sweet connection, more

VOORHEES, N.J. — It was around 7 a.m. in his native Finland when Jori Lehtera was woken up by his wife.
"She said, 'We're going to go to Philly,'" Lehtera recalled Saturday.
He had been traded to the Flyers.
"I was like, 'OK,'" Lehtera said. "And I kept sleeping."
No big deal, huh?
"I'm just kidding," he said with a laugh. "I started to Google the place."
This came during June when Lehtera was acquired by the Flyers on the night of the NHL draft in the deal that sent Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues.
Lehtera, a 29-year-old center, now finds himself in Voorhees for his first training camp with the Flyers. And just like when he started researching Philadelphia, Lehtera is excited about his new beginning. Last season — his third with the Blues and in the NHL — the 2008 third-round pick set career lows across the board, scoring 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 64 games for a minus-6 rating. He was also a healthy scratch in three of the team's 11 playoff games.
"The whole last year was frustrating," he said. "I'm really happy to get a fresh start here. Really excited."
Through two days of training camp, Lehtera has been paired on a line with fellow Finn Valtteri Filppula. The two are well-acquainted, having worked out together in previous summers. Lehtera and Filppula are two of many options the Flyers have at the center position. Should Lehtera have to play the wing, that's no problem he said.
"I've played winger before in the world cup, Olympics, world championships," he said. "I'm fine with that."

So what did he find out about Philadelphia on that Google search?
"It's a big city," he said.
Then Claude Giroux, at the locker stall right next to his new teammate, chimed in.
"Great media!" the Flyers' captain said with a huge smile.
Game time
Following two days of camp, the Flyers jump right into their preseason schedule with a 1 p.m. game Sunday against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

As for who plays among the 57 players on the training camp roster will be announced Sunday morning, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said.
Per NHL rules, a club has to dress at least eight veterans for an exhibition game, while a first-round pick from the most recent year's entry draft can constitute as one.
Regardless, we'll find out the lineup Sunday morning. Expect more junior and AHL players than established NHLers, though, as early roster cuts could come as soon as Monday morning.
What does the preseason opener mean for Hakstol?
"We've barely touched on or talked about a system," he said. "It's not going to be about systems tomorrow, it'll be more so about individuals going out and playing to their strengths and doing that throughout the 60 minutes. We're coming off a couple of real hard days. I would expect at some point in time — we might get a little low on energy at some point in time in the 60 minutes. I'm not concerned with that. I want to see guys that are able to rise above that a little bit, continue to think the game well and play hard and play intelligent."
Captain to kid
The morning session with the first group provided an exciting sequence between Giroux and anticipated prospect Oskar Lindblom.
In a 2-on-2 drill, Giroux slipped a pretty pass through traffic to Lindblom, who skillfully deflected it home for a goal. The play just so happened to occur on the south end of the rink where fans are allowed to watch along the glass.
Fans packed Flyers Skate Zone at 9:15 a.m. for festivities and to watch practice.
They certainly took delight in the Giroux-Lindblom connection.
Back together?
It appears Dean Lombardi is reuniting with Ron Hextall.
The Flyers have hired the ex-general manager, according to a report Saturday by The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun. In what function he'll serve Hextall has not yet been reported.
Hextall was Lombardi's assistant GM when the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012. The Kings, who also won the Cup under Lombardi's watch in 2014, fired the 59-year-old in April.
Lombardi was a scout for the Flyers from 2003 to 2006.
Patrick's line
Like Day 1, No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick was paired with Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds.
The Flyers clearly want to see how Patrick and Lindblom fare with NHL talent as the organization's two biggest roster hopefuls in camp.
Weal has been impressive with his speed and puck-handling. Once he gets a head of steam, he makes things happen.
He has also been impressed by Patrick.
"He's a smart player, you can tell right away," Weal said. "He's calm in the middle of the ice. It's nice to have a guy like that that has a good presence in there and is calm with the puck and can make plays out to the wingers. It's the first couple of days, so we're just starting to get to know to each other and I think it's just going to keep on getting better from here."
Hard to believe Patrick turns just 19 Tuesday?
"They're getting younger and younger, you know?" Weal said. "It's pretty crazy. He's a talented kid and it'll be nice if we can get to play together a little more moving forward."
Crushin' Cole
Forward prospect Cole Bardreau seemed to hit just about everything in sight Saturday.
Bardeau is only 5-foot-10 but 194 pounds and fearless physically. Playing in the first group, he bulldozed Mark Friedman (5-10/192) — an energy guy himself — in front of the net and sent Ivan Kosorenkov (5-10/187) hard into the boards shortly thereafter.
The all-out style is Bardreau's calling card.

"It's part of who he is as a player, he's in the middle of everything," Hakstol said. "In the first couple of days, he's certainly a guy that is trying to take advantage of every opportunity. There's no part-time to what he's done so far in the first couple of days. And I guess I would expect that out of him. He's an energy-type player, he plays the game in your face. He did that all last year when he was in the lineup in Lehigh. He's continued to do that here early this week."
The 24-year-old will more than likely start 2017-18 with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and provide that edge in hopes of being a depth option for the Flyers if needed.
Injury note
Forward prospect Pascal Laberge, who left Friday's morning practice early to be examined by a doctor for an undisclosed issue, is fine and was back on the ice Saturday.
He played alongside prospects German Rubtsov and Kosorenkov.
"It felt good, the second practice of the main camp, we had a good pace out there and I think we worked well," Laberge said. "It was fun.
"They're Russian players, they have a lot of skills, I think I can bring skills, too. We have a great line out there and hopefully, we can play together tomorrow or later in the camp."
"Your first goal is always to make the playoffs and then you go from there. I think our division is tough, but at the same time, our team, we're molding as a good team pretty quick here. Having those young guys come in and make a difference for us right away, I think it's going to make us a pretty dangerous team."
- Claude Giroux
"It's really intense, a lot is concentrated on the D joining the rush and scoring. It's the first two days, I'm sure they have their reasons for certain drills. We just have to trust the process, go out there and do what they're asking us to do. The first couple days haven't been really goalie-friendly, let's just say that. The D drills will come out soon and we'll be sorting out defensive-zone coverages and things like that."
- Brian Elliott
Group lines, pairings and goalies
They were nearly identical to Day 1.
Oskar Lindblom-Claude Giroux-Travis Konecny
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Taylor Leier-Mikhail Vorobyev-Colin McDonald
Pascal Laberge/Anthony Salinitri-German Rubtsov-Ivan Kosorenkov
Greg Carey-Corban Knight-Cole Bardreau
Ivan Provorov-Travis Sanheim
Sam Morin-Andrew MacDonald    
Will O'Neill-Mark Alt
Maxim Lamarche-Mark Friedman
Brian Elliott    
Alex Lyon    
John Muse
Dale Weise-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Matt Read
Connor Bunnaman/Carsen Twarynski-Phil Varone-Mike Vecchione
Tyrell Goulbourne-Radel Fazleev-Danick Martel
Robert Hagg-Shayne Gostisbehere
T.J. Brennan-Radko Gudas
Brandon Manning-Phil Myers
Frank Hora-Reece Wilcox/James de Haas
Michal Neuvirth
Carter Hart
Leland Irving