At only 22 years of age, Samuel Girard is already proving to be one of the most complete defensemen in the NHL.
This season, the Colorado Avalanche have been, at times, decimated with injuries. In light of that, the Quebec blueliner stepped up to the role of No. 1 defenseman for Colorado and has excelled in the role so far.
A few months ago, I wrote a piece detailing Girard’s underappreciated talent in the media outside Denver. Nowadays, it’s somewhat different. The former Shawinigan Cataracte has now received some recognition across the league for his outstanding play over the last month, and some even believe he is in the Norris Trophy conversation. This is mostly due to how the Avalanche have still managed to secure victories in the absence of many of their players, and with Girard playing a major role in them doing so.
Filled the Void
The former QMJHL Defensive Rookie of the Year has risen to the occasion in the absence of Cale Makar for the second year in a row. Last season when the reigning Calder Trophy winner missed time with an upper-body injury, Girard showed signs of incredible potential with his play. This year, he is doing the same in similar circumstances.
During Makar’s 10-game-absence in the last month, Girard posted 10 points while averaging around 26 minutes of ice time. He also averaged 67.4xGF%, which is a stat that measures shot quality to determine whether their team is more probable to score when they are on the ice. This was second among all defensemen during this period.
Throughout this span, Girard has been primarily playing on the first pair, something he is usually not accustomed to. Playing multiple games with over 28 minutes of ice time has never been the norm for the Quebec native, but he is a player that head coach Jared Bednar can rely on to do so.
Providing that consistent and calm presence on the blueline is something I mentioned when I last spoke about Girard, and since then he has continued to do the same, but on a larger scale. He has seemed more confident with the puck and has looked more decisive in his decisions across the ice. In the last month, rarely has the 22-year-old had a mishap on either end of the ice.
This is mostly due to his mobility. Girard can skate miles around the opposing forwards if he wanted. It allows him to take risks because he knows he can recover back into his position if there is a rush down the other end. He knows what he is capable of and plays to his advantage, which is what you can’t ask more of if you’re Bednar.
Colorado has suffered only two regulation losses in all of March. As mentioned previously, most of that was without Makar, but it was also without Bowen Byram. The rookie defenseman fully cemented himself in the lineup earlier this season. Essentially, Girard not only had to step up for one but two constant presences on the blueline for the Avalanche, and he did an excellent job at it.
Deserved Recognition Across the NHL
Across the NHL, there are definitely some worthy candidates for the Norris Trophy this season. Names such as Victor Hedman, Jeff Petry, and Aaron Ekblad come to mind. However, over the past month, Girard has put his name into the conversation.
His stellar play combined with the play of the Avalanche over this period should rightfully put himself into the mixed bag of names this year.
General manager Joe Sakic now has two defensemen that have been tossed around in Norris consideration in one year. Nobody should be happier in Denver than he is currently. On the other hand, with Makar and Byram now both being healthy, Bednar has three solid pairs that he can rely on to an equal amount. The load has been lifted off Girard’s shoulders to a certain extent. However, with his play during this month and if he keeps it up into the future, this may not be the last time his name is talked about in regards to the Norris this season.
Overall, the steady and effective minutes once provided by Girard have now been seen on a larger scale. By now, it should be no debate whether the Avalanche have two defensemen capable of playing number-one type minutes. The seven-year contract worth $35 million signed by the 22-year-old a few summers ago could end up being the largest bargain in the league in a few years’ time.
My name is Ilyas, I’m 18-years-old, I was raised in Toronto, and currently enrolled in the Ryerson School of Journalism. I cover the Colorado Avalanche here at The Hockey Writers.