With over 220 games under his belt, it’s easy to forget that Colorado Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard is only 21 years old. His NHL experience at such a young age has contributed to his steady improvement over three seasons. Now, he has become a staple on the team’s blue line. He has not only increased his offensive output but has also been given more defensive responsibility. He has developed into the player the Avalanche hoped and needed.
Trade from the Nashville Predators
Girard’s skating ability and offensive talent made him an attractive pick for the Nashville Predators who selected him in the second round, 47th overall. He only played five games for the Predators before being traded to the Avalanche in a three-team deal involving the Ottawa Senators. In his short time with the Preds, he notched one goal and three points, including his first goal in his second NHL game. The Quebec native had raw offensive skills.
At the time, the Predators boasted one of the strongest defensive units in the NHL. Captain Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and PK Subban rounded out a formidable top four. The team could afford to give up Girard, and the Avalanche wanted to fortify their defensive core. In today’s NHL, skilled, fast-skating defensemen are important pieces for any team, and Girard fit the bill.
Following a painful 48-point season in 2016-17, the Avalanche wanted to rebound in 2017-18, and general manager Joe Sakic identified Girard as a player who could contribute to their rebuild. After almost three seasons with the team, he has proven Sakic right.
First Full Season with the Avalanche
Girard’s stellar offensive production in his short five-game stint with the Predators did not continue in his first season with the Avalanche. In 68 games, he posted three goals and 17 assists, finishing the season with 23 points in his combined time with the Predators and the Avalanche. While not the most impressive numbers, his first NHL season was by no means a flop. He contributed in other ways, logging an average 17:39 of ice time, a substantial amount for a 19-year-old. With a strong rookie season, he positioned himself to flourish in subsequent years.
In his second NHL season, Girard took a significant step forward in his development, playing in all 82 games. He improved his point total from 23 to 27 and also increased his average time on ice by over two minutes (19:54). Defensively, he finished the season a plus-8, a substantial improvement (16 point swing) from his minus-8 at the end of 2018. He also showed flashes of skating and offensive talent, eluding opponents on the blue line and driving the rush with his speed.
By most measures, Girard avoided the sophomore slump and instead blossomed. He handled more responsibility and produced at an increased rate. His strong play instilled confidence from the Avalanche’s front office and, during the offseason, they signed him to a seven-year, $35 million contract. They were all-in on the young defenseman and, given his play this season, the $5 million average annual value could be a steal.
This Season and Stepping Up without Cale Makar
Rookie sensation Cale Makar has garnered the most attention of Avalanche defensemen this season – rightly so, considering he has 47 points (12 goals, 35 assists) in 56 games, (from ‘Kiszla vs. Chambers: Will Avalanche’s Cale Makar lose Calder Trophy to Quinn Hughes?,’ Denver Post, 02/03/2020).
However, his emergence has not stunted Girard’s development. Girard has continued his upward projection, carving out his best season to date. Furthermore, he has proven himself with and without Makar in the lineup.
Girard has surpassed his career-high in assist (30) and points (34) this season. With one more goal, he will eclipse his previous high of four. He has again increased his average ice time by over 1:40, now consistently logging over 21 minutes per game. He has also surpassed his previous career-high of 90 hits with 92 this season. Concerning takeaways and giveaways, he has narrowed the difference to 38 and 39, a significant improvement from 25-44 (2018-19) and 13-31 (2017-18). These numbers are indicative of his offensive production and improved defensive proficiency.
Girard has also stepped up without Makar, who has missed 13 games this season due to injury. In those games, Girard has logged almost 24 minutes of ice time, over two more than his season average and notched five assists. His plus/minus has suffered (minus-8), but the Avalanche have struggled as a team without Makar, going 6-5-1 in his absence. Despite their struggles woes, Girard softened the blow of Makar’s injury and helped the team secure 13 crucial points in a close Central Division race.
Girard Key Component in Avs’ Future
The Avalanche needed a defenseman who could produce offensively without being a defensive liability and Girard has delivered. His solid offensive totals and strong defensive play have reinforced the team’s blue line. Each season, he has improved, indicating further potential for the young defenseman. Alongside Cale Makar, Girard will serve an important role in the Avalanche’s bright future.