Decision time is looming for the Colorado Avalanche as they begin to sort through the pieces they acquired in the Matt Duchene trade and plan on how to move forward with their young roster. The biggest determination at this time is whether or not to keep 19-year-old defenseman Samuel Girard on the NHL club past the nine games played mark and burn the first year of his entry level contract or to send him back to the Shawinigan Cataractes in the QMJHL. That ninth game is this Saturday, November 18th and coincidentally will be Girard's homecoming in Nashville. The tenth game is the immediately the next night in Detroit, thus giving the Avalanche less than a week to make their choice.
It already seems as if the Avalanche are leaning in the direction of keeping Girard on the team. In the two games against the Ottawa Senators over the past weekend in Sweden, Girard was paired with Tyson Barrie and clocked in at minutes played of 21:55 and 22:39. On the scoresheet, Girard ended the weekend with an assist on an Alexander Kerfoot tally, +1 rating and two shots on goal. He looked confident and poised with the puck, made quick decisions, showed off his amazing skating and passing ability and generally looked like an NHL player and one who can certainly help the Avalanche right now.
The other side of the equation is what's best for Girard and the Avalanche long term. The Avalanche have generally been conservative in the past when it comes to prospects and contracts. They kept Mikko Rantanen in the minor leagues after he was selected to the AHL All-Star game and was leading the San Antonio Rampage in scoring on his way to winning co-rookie of the year and opted to use assets to bring in rentals at the trade deadline in 2016 instead of burning the first year of his contract. And while this season has been deemed to be all about the youth movement, there are still issues on the roster and on the blueline, in particular, to sort through in determining exactly what they have in Nikita Zadorov, Chris Bigras, Andrei Mironov and Anton Lindholm. Those players will all need to see games and minutes as the season progresses.
It's unfortunate that the only place Girard can go is back to junior. Where his game is currently seems like it would be a big step back as Girard has shown he's ready for professional hockey. His QMJHL team in Shawinigan is at the bottom of the league standings but they would certainly trade him to a contender who would have an excellent shot at a league title and the Memorial Cup. Girard would also become available for team Canada for the World Junior Championship and would likely be a big part of the team and possibly have a teammate in other Avalanche blueline hope Cale Makar. It's not nearly an unfavorable situation for him to return to even if the level of competition isn't ideal.
All that said, Girard belongs on the Avalanche and they need to find a way to make the roster work. The presence Mark Barberio and Patrik Nemeth taking up roster space should not keep a talent like Girard off the team. As a growing year for the youth and future, Girard is an important piece moving forward and he needs to learn and get experience together with other rookie teammates such as Tyson Jost, JT Compher, and Alexander Kerfoot. Plus, the Avalanche could still send Girard to the WJC when the time comes if they choose to do so as it is not required to have the player in any certain league to send him from, although it is rare that players go directly from the NHL club.
Also, the ten game mark increasingly is seen as not as critical as the 40 game milestone of one year accrued to unrestricted free agency. So that buys the Avalanche more time to see if Girard truly fits in this season. Still, it is tough to see the Avalanche send away a key piece from the Matt Duchene trade so quickly when the fanbase is ripe to latch on to the new player and the concept of moving forward. Girard just flat out gives the Avalanche something they sorely need which is puck-moving ability and a dynamic talent from the back end. It's all in front of them right now if they just take a little bit of a leap of faith.