When it comes to sizing up his draft prospects, undersized Saginaw Spirit left wing Damien Giroux feels that the game is rapidly changing to embrace players of his stature.
It’s a move allowing him to come up big.
“It’s always changing — you can see now that the speed aspect of the game is taking over. I think there’s been a big change,” Giroux said. “For me it’d be Tyler Johnson from the Tampa Bay Lightning — he’s a smaller forward, like myself, and I’ve really come to admire his game.
“He never quits on a shift — he always gives his 110 per cent effort, and I think it’s really easy to look up to him.
“I think for him he has that mental state where he plays like he’s 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7. He doesn’t let his size be a factor in his game — he plays with grit, he plays with intensity, and that’s something that I can really model myself after.”
Saginaw coach Troy Smith said he feels the game has recognized the value of players like Giroux after spending years overlooking talent for height.
“I coached a kid named Justin Azevedo who, had he played at this time, I bet you’d he’d be an NHL Draft at 17 rather than 19,” Smith explained of the player selected in the sixth round of the 2008 NHL Draft by the Los Angeles Kings.
“Damien’s very similar in that they both the right way, they both play an aggressive style, but are both obviously height-undersized, but have the compete level and the battle level to stand up to the big guys and play a big-man’s game.”
Saginaw is currently residing at the bottom of the OHL standings, due largely to an incredibly young roster.
As much as Giroux leads on the ice — averaging near a point-per-game and sitting near the top of the Spirit’s scoring leaders — he’s taken it upon himself, at 17, to embrace more of a leadership role.
“I think it’s always a thing that when you’ve had more experience on your end, you want to show that as an example on the ice, or saying the right things to the guys if they’re feeling down,” he said.
“It’s obviously something that falls on your back and you’re always thinking about in the back of your head.”
His coach said that when it comes to Giroux, you have to ignore the birth certificate and cast aside those traditional views.
“It’s not normal when you look at the age, but I think when you look at his makeup he’s a leader by nature,” Smith added.
“He shows up on time every day, he’s the first guy in the gym, the first guy on the ice, last guy off — all those cliche thing. And he’s extremely positive and we need positivity with our group right now, with the way we’ve had with our start. He’s mature beyond his years and he’s taken on the leadership role organically.
“He’s got an unbelievable head on his shoulders. For me, I think he’s a little bit of a sleeper in the draft, where guys come in and maybe underestimate him just because of size, but at the end of the game he forces you to look down at the paper and make positive notes on him.”
And though he’s aware of people making notes on him in arenas around the OHL, Giroux has put in the work to block out those distractions.
“It’s not something I want to stress about,” he said.
“It’s in the back of my head, but I try not to think about it too much. I just want to think game by game, shift by shift — thinking about the little details that I have to do to be successful.
“It’s always something that’s tough to do. But it’s something I’ve been practicing, especially with some of my mental strength coaches that I’ve been working with over the summer.
“It’s just something I have to work at.”