- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 19, 2009

What Alexandre Giroux was able to accomplish last season is just as impressive to veteran, professional hockey players as it is to anyone else.

Giroux led the American Hockey League with 60 goals in the regular season, then potted 15 more during the Calder Cup playoffs for the Hershey Bears. No player has scored more in a league with a history that dates back more than 70 years.

“I only think about it when other people bring it up,” Giroux said. “I was talking to [Michael Nylander] during practice because we played together a lot when I was [with the Washington Capitals] last year. He asked me how many goals I ended up with, and when I told him, he said, ‘That’s [expletive] amazing. This is unbelievable.’ So I started thinking about it again and, yeah, it is unreal.”

The 28-year-old left wing from Quebec had four 30-goal seasons at the AHL level on his resume, but being paired with Keith Aucoin on Hershey’s top line produced magical results. Giroux recorded 21 more goals than any other player in the league and edged Aucoin for the scoring title with 97 points.

He did all this despite missing time to play for the parent club. Both Giroux and Aucoin easily would have eclipsed the 100-point mark if they hadn’t each logged 12 games for the Caps.

“It was just fun to be a part of,” Aucoin said. “I’d be surprised if you see that many from anyone ever again.”

Clearly, Giroux has the capacity to dominate AHL competition. Mastering the next level has proved to be more challenging. To be fair, Giroux has never truly received an extended opportunity in the NHL. He has three goals in 22 games, but the next time he plays as a top-six forward for an NHL team for more than a couple of games will be his first.

This year’s training camp is Giroux’s chance to shed his reputation as a “Quadruple-A player.” The Caps are short two offensive-minded players in Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr, and Fleischmann’s injury could keep him out for the first month of the season.

Giroux’s first chance to prove he could handle a top-six spot came Thursday night at Buffalo. Playing on the second line with Brendan Morrison and Chris Clark, Giroux notched the first goal of the contest.

“It is a really good start. A guy like me, I need to create some stuff offensively,” Giroux said. “I’m trying not just to make the team - I want to make the team and help the team. … Obviously with a guy like [Fleischmann] hurt, there might be a spot open, and this is my opportunity to take it. Starting the year here would be a big thing for me.”

For other forwards fighting for a roster spot - players like Aucoin, Jay Beagle, Quintin Laing and Andrew Gordon - their ability to impress the coaching staff isn’t necessarily tied to goals and points. Beagle, Laing and Gordon can impress with hustle and hard work.

Giroux is a pure sniper, which can be a blessing and a curse. If the Caps’ brass feels the team needs a jolt of offense to replace Fleischmann and/or Fehr, Giroux has to be considered the favorite. If the team is looking for someone with more grit, Giroux may be lighting up AHL goaltenders again this year.

Still, Giroux can’t focus solely on putting pucks in the net - or that too could have him back in the minors.

“I can’t be like [Alex Ovechkin]. He’s going to score because that’s what he does,” Giroux said. “I know I can score, but I’ve also got to be responsible defensively because every time I’m on the ice and get scored against could mean less time for me. I think if I am strong defensively and help create some chances offensively, I have a good chance.”

• Corey Masisak can be reached at cmasisak@washingtontimes.com.

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