First it was Nathan MacKinnon. Then Mikko Rantanen. Now Colorado Avalanche fans are going to have to explain to the rest of the hockey world just how good Samuel Girard is.
When the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators were working on the Matt Duchene trade last year, the availability of Thomas Chabot became a sticking point. Everyone knew the young defenseman had a ton of potential and if the Senators had made him available, the trade would have likely come months earlier.
While Ottawa held firm, the two sides were able to work out a deal that saw the Sens flip Kyle Turris to Nashville in order to receive another young defender that would end up being a focal point of the Duchene acquisition.
Of the six assets the Avalanche received when they dealt Matt Duchene away last November, Ottawa’s first round pick has been the one to get the most attention. The allure of adding Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko to the roster for next season is one that has Avalanche fans salivating, but it is the undersized defenseman that came from Nashville who is already having a huge impact on the Colorado’s lineup.
Samuel Girard was drafted 47th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Predators. He was the 13th defender drafted and there’s little doubt it was because of his size. After putting up 74 points in 64 games, the only thing standing between Girard and the first round was a measuring stick.
Girard’s measurements at the 2016 Draft Combine were not ones scouts like to see from defensemen. He came in at 5’9” and 160lbs. As a reference point, that is one inch shorter and 12 lbs lighted than Ryan Ellis was at the draft combine a few years earlier. Ellis was a superstar in the OHL at the time, but he had his draft stock downgraded by a number of scouts because of his size. The same thing happened to Girard in 2016.
Maybe there’s a lesson here. But that’s a discussion for another time.
It made sense that the Avalanche had their sights set on Chabot when they were looking for a young defender in the Duchene trade. He is a very good young player that is going to be a high-end defender for a long time. With that said, it’s worth noting that at 20-years old Girard might be showing us that he has the potential to grow into the more well rounded defender long term.
Chabot’s point total is much higher this season, but Girard’s shot suppression numbers are far superior - ironic given that Girard is the one that was looked at as “too small” to be s hut down guy.
At 20-years old, Samuel Girard already has 85 NHL games under his belt. Jakob Chychrun (118) and Mikhail Sergachev (93) are the only defenders drafted in 2016 or later that have played more games. What’s more impressive than the game total is that Girard is doing it as a member of Colorado’s top pair.
Playing alongside Erik Johnson, Girard is logging a lot of ice time and matching up against the opposition's best line on most shift. At 17:24, Sam Girard is getting more even strength ice time than any other player on the Avalanche.
Not only is he getting the ice time - he is excelling with it.
Sam Girard’s 49.41 CF% is second best among Avalanche defenders. He and Erik Johnson allow substantially fewer shot attempts towards the net than any other defensive pair - and they’re doing it while regularly playing against stronger competition.
Looking at Girard’s shot rates, he lands almost perfectly at league average, an impressive feat given where the rest of his Avalanche teammates fall, and given how early he is in his development.
Watching him play, it’s easy to forget that Girard is only 20-year old. It’s rare for defenders his age to play in the NHL, let alone play on the top pair.
In fact, there are currently only nine defenders in the NHL who were born after 1997 - Rasmus Dahlin, Henri Jokiharju, Dennis Cholowski, Mikhail Sergachev, Miro Heiskanen, Evan Bouchard, Juuso Valimaki, Victor Mete and Samuel Girard. That is some incredibly impressive company. Of those players only Jokiharju, Heiskanen and Cholowski average more ice time than Girard.
The young Avalanche defender is in a very elite group. One that will become the face of defense in the NHL very soon.
You never want to put unattainable expectations on a young player, and maybe it’s not fair to label him with a comparison to one of the best defensemen in the NHL; though I just can’t help but watch Sam Girard play and think of a young (healthy Kris Letang).
Let’s look back at Letang’s scouting report from Elite Prospects when he first came into the NHL:
Letang is an all-around talent on defense. He has world-class skating ability and terrific puckhandling skills. He’s got fantastic hockey sense and oozes creativity from the backend. The right-handed shot can also play a physical game, despite not having a huge frame.
That is Sam Girard to a T.
The thing is, Sam Girard is already ahead of Kris Letang’s development curve.
Letang and Girard had very comparable rookie seasons, the difference is that Girard was a year younger when it happened.
They’re not perfectly comparable; Girard shoots left and isn’t likely to ever get to the 200 lbs Letang plays at - and let’s hope Girard’s health isn’t as unlucky - but the similarities are defiantly there.
Girard got to the NHL thanks to his skating ability and instincts with the puck. He’s growing into an elite NHLer because of a desire to learn and adapt into a two-way defender. He’ll always be thought of as a puck-mover first, but Girard is showing the development that allows him to be used in more defensive situations.
Heck, the kid doesn’t even need a stick to shut down his opponent
Sam Girard stops a breakaway chance, breaks up a pass, blocks a shot, and clears the puck all without a stick pic.twitter.com/AEGGINhzfQ— TheRenderNHL (@TheRenderNHL) January 26, 2018
He came to Colorado in what will likely always be referred to as the “Matt Duchene Trade”, but as it’s been pointed out, maybe we should start referring to it as the Sam Girard trade (until we can call it the Jack Hughes trade).
The Avalanche have a star on their hands. Samuel Girard is already very good, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the league realizes just how good. Until then, Avalanche fans can sit back and enjoy watching one of the most talented young defenders in the game. Waiting - like with Mikko Rantanen - for him to get the hype he deserves a year late.