No one who has encountered Damien Giroux over the course of his hockey career should be surprised that the 17-year-old Hanmer native has set high expectations for himself in his second OHL season.
No one should be shocked, either, that the skilled, hard-working forward was well on his way to meeting those expectations when his Saginaw Spirit wrapped up the pre-Christmas side of their schedule.
"I wanted to be the leading scorer on my team, to be the most reliable player on my team, and to just be an overall good teammate," said Giroux, back in Greater Sudbury for the holidays. "I'm just going to keep doing whatever it takes to accomplish those three goals, whether it's taking extra time after practice or just more time in the weight room."
The 5-foot-10, 175-pounder entered the break with 13 goals, the second most of any Saginaw player, and 27 points, good for third on the Spirit roster.
Giroux's two-way play has undoubtedly been a factor in Saginaw's recent surge to sixth in the Western Conference standings. He's drawing key assignments, often hitting the ice in the final minute of close games, and he's making an impact in his team's dressing room, to the point that Saginaw head coach Troy Smith has named him as an alternate captain.
"I'm being used in different positions and what I really like about my play right now is I'm being more reliable on the ice," Giroux said. "There's always room for improvement, though, and hopefully, we'll have a stronger second half."
A third-round pick, 44th overall, in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection, Giroux had a solid 16-year-old season in Saginaw with eight goals and 17 assists in 53 games, and thrilled fans at his hometown rink in January when he scored in a win over the Sudbury Wolves.
He headed into the off-season determined to be an impact player in 2017-18, his NHL draft year.
"It's obviously working out as much as I can off the ice, but also working on little things more on the ice - those first three steps, working on that explosive power, working on a quick release," Giroux said. "Those are things I really tried to focus on this summer and I think I did a fairly good job at working on them."
He spent much of his Christmas vacation on the ice, too, skating several times with his younger brother Zacharie, a star for the Nickel City Sons major bantams and an OHL draft prospect in 2019.
Though by no means a below-average skater, Giroux will look to keep improving his speed to make himself a more attractive big-league prospect and to overcome any trepidations about his size.
NHL Central Scouting did not rank Giroux on its November Players to Watch list, but that doesn't mean he isn't turning heads already. Mark Seidel, a Sudbury-based evaluator who runs North American Central Scouting and prepares a draft guide for pro teams, currently has the local product ranked 53rd overall.
Having watched Giroux in action for several years, Seidel is confident the youngster will do whatever he can to maximize his abilities.
"He's on his Christmas break here and he's skating," Seidel said. "There's a lot of guys in the league who aren't doing that today, guaranteed. That will be the knock on him, that he doesn't have size and he doesn't have electrifying feet, but that's what that's what they used to say about Alex DeBrincat, too, that he's undersized and he doesn't have that extra quickness. Alex's game is more one-dimensional, where Damien's is more three-dimensional and 200 feet, he's good away from the puck and with his leadership and all those other things, you put all those attributes in and I definitely think he's worthy of a draft."
A captain at almost every level, Giroux was happy to take a leadership role for the Spirit, one of the youngest teams in the OHL this season.
"For me, leading isn't just about talking and saying something in the dressing room," he said. "Obviously, you do if something needs to be said, but for me personally, it has always been about leading with a good example on the ice, whether that's doing the little things like chipping a puck out, blocking a shot or just having energy on the bench, those are things I have always been told that good players, good leaders have, and it's something I have been trying to work on."
It could make a big difference when it comes to raising his stock for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, to be held in Dallas June 22-23.
"I have a pretty good relationship with my coach and I have been able to talk to him and have good conversations about what it takes to become successful at that next level," Giroux said. "He just kept telling me that it's all about doing the little things, day in and day out, and it's about showing up and giving your best effort. If I can keep managing to do all those little things and just show up every night, every practice, and keep working hard, hopefully good things will happen."
The Spirit return to action when they host the Soo Greyhounds on Thursday at 7:05 p.m. Giroux and his teammates visit the Nickel City on Jan. 19 in another 7:05 p.m. start.