Giroux proves critics wrong

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:50 AM ET

The scouts of the Gatineau Olympiques thought winger Claude Giroux could be good.

But not as good as this. Not even close.

The 18-year-old Orleans resident is lighting it up in his first season in the QMJHL, leading the 'Piques in scoring and impressing everybody in the Gatineau organization.

"Nobody expected that from him, but we feel lucky to have him," Olympiques coach Benoit Groulx said after Wednesday night's game against Halifax at the Guertin Centre.

The diminutive 5-foot-9, 150-lb., winger set up two goals during an easy 4-0 win. Giroux also had several chances to score and gave the faithful Gatineau fans a shock when he dropped his gloves in the final period to battle prospect Ryan Hillier.

He has 31 goals and 76 points, trailing only Quebec's Angelo Esposito in rookie scoring. If not for Esposito, Giroux would likely win the league's rookie of the year award, which would have been remarkable given his background.

BYPASSED

Two years ago following a season of minor midget with the Cumberland Barons, Giroux hoped to be drafted into the OHL but was bypassed by every team.

He spent last year with the Cumberland Grads of the CJHL before being discovered by the Olympiques.

"I felt that he might have a spot on my team, maybe on the third or fourth line, but I've been quite surprised," said coach Groulx.

The success of Giroux continues an Olympiques tradition of finding talent on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River, turning those players into Quebec league stars after being ignored by OHL clubs.

Marty Johnston was deemed too small to play in the OHL, but suited up for the Olympiques and became a fan favourite. He helped the team win the 1997 Memorial Cup.

"We're going in their backyard and trying to find players who can help us," said Groulx.

Speaking of prospects, Giroux has made himself one for the upcoming NHL draft. The league's scouting bureau has been ranked 12th among skaters in the Quebec league in the mid-term ratings.

Giroux played as an injury replacement at last month's CHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Place and provided one of the event's highlights, scoring a between-the-legs razzle-dazzle goal during the three-on-three exhibition.

"He's going to be drafted into the pros, and I believe one day he's going to be a pro," said Groulx.

The thought of being drafted by an NHL team seems surreal to Giroux.

"I didn't even think about it. To me, it was something that wasn't even possible," said Giroux, who attends high school at Beatrice Desloges in Orleans. "Knowing now that I might get drafted is just unbelievable."

Looks good on him. And the Olympiques, too.

IN THE CREASE: Pembroke G Tyler Chestnut has set a pair of CJHL records with seven shutouts in one season, and 10 career blankings ... The Kings have moved up to No. 2 in the national junior A rankings, behind the Milton IceHawks.

BARRE.CAMPBELL@OTT.SUNPUB.COM


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