Claude Giroux has no doubt asserted himself as the go-to offensive player and perhaps the de facto leader on the Philadelphia Flyers roster. Coming off a season in which he totaled 93 points, including 65 assists, Giroux has a lot on his shoulders and some heavy expectations for the 2012-2013 NHL season.
Since the departures of both Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, the Flyers have been in need of someone who can step up offensively and Giroux has more than delivered. Indications are that Giroux will be able to continue to produce Hart Trophy caliber numbers. Maxime Talbot and Daniel Briere have the second line anchored and Philadelphia has signed Giroux’s linemate Scott Hartnell to a long term deal.
The first line is Giroux’s for the taking, but one glaring question remains: who will play on Giroux’s right wing now that Jaromir Jagr is in Dallas? Giroux has undoubtedly benefited from Jagr’s experience and scoring ability on the right wing. His ability was perhaps second only to Hartnell, who tallied a team high 37 goals last season while playing to Giroux’s left.
There’s no question that Jagr made that line more threatening and helped both Giroux and Hartnell reach their full scoring potential. Answering the question of how this could affect Giroux’s future should be done by examining the possible replacements the Flyers have for their top line’s right wing position.
If Giroux benefited from experience, replacing Jagr with a somewhat seasoned veteran could be the most advisable option, at least for the beginning of the season. Wayne Simmonds and Briere both have excellent offensive upside, though Briere is more typically used to anchor the second line, usually playing alongside Talbot or Sean Couturier.
Simmonds, though younger, has four full years of NHL experience and has proved he’s a capable scorer even on the second and third lines. In a similar situation is Jakub Voracek, who has already spent four full seasons in the league and would bring a mix of both youth and experience to the Flyers’ first line. He was also second in command to Jagr last season and would be an easy answer to replace him at the top spot, possibly prompting Matt Read to be moved up to the second line position with Talbot and Briere.
Read’s placement is particularly interesting as he doesn’t bring a lot of experience, but is actually older than Voracek (26) and produced similar numbers in his first full season with the Flyers, tallying 24 goals and 47 points. While you’d hope for a little more production out of a first line winger, Read’s maturity and proven offensive ability might be the perfect fit for both his own development and the continuation of Giroux’s reign of terror over opposing goaltenders.
In my own opinion, I’d put my money on either Simmonds or Read getting the nod to play alongside Giroux this coming season. I just don’t see Briere or Voracek deviating from their second lines roles. Clearly Simmonds and Read have both shown tremendous improvement and getting a full season to play alongside Giroux and Hartnell should be enough to push them well past the 50 point threshold.