Across the NHL world, Cale Makar, deservedly, receives a lot of recognition for his incredible play. Including receiving the Calder Trophy last year for his outstanding rookie season. However, his emergence in the 2019-20 season overshadowed the excellent play of Samuel Girard in the media.
The former QMJHL Defensive Rookie of the Year was one of the central pieces of the three-team Matt Duchene deal from a few years ago and has proved to be one of the better young blueliners in the league. He has developed into an excellent defenseman, who can control the pace of play while logging a lot of minutes.
The Roverbal, Quebec native doesn’t put up the same amount of points as Makar, but he surpassed his career-high in points and assists last season, with 30 and 34 respectively. The 22-year-old also logged another career-high with an average TOI of 21:19.
The combo of Makar and Girard on the back end has the potential to be the best top-two defensive combo in the league. Most outside of Denver would perceive Girard as being second-fiddle to Makar’s remarkable talent. However, the Avalanche should be seen as having two top defensemen at their disposal — and here’s why:
Level of Consistency
Over the past three seasons in the mile-high city, Girard has been one of the most consistent defensemen in the league, while also developing into a top-pairing one at the same time.
The former Shawinigan Cataracte shared the ice with five different defensemen last season at even-strength play, but his most common partner was Erik Johnson. With all of this shuffling happening around him because of injuries, he still found ways to produce.
He has shown to be a player to consistently play at the same level. When the Calder Trophy winner fell with an injury last season, Girard’s usage ramped up as he became the top option for Colorado’s defense. He logged an average of around 24 minutes of ice time during that stretch, and continue to provide a steady presence on the blue line.
This is something Girard has done ever since his move to Colorado from Nashville. As soon as he stepped into the Avalanche lineup back in 2017 he has produced efficient minutes. The former second-round pick by the Predators has become one of the more reliable defensemen for the Avalanche, and one head coach Jared Bednar can always call upon.
Girard came into the league touted as an offensive defenseman, and while he has improved defensively, the 22-year-old has also lived up to this projection. Bednar has trusted Girard with quarterbacking the second power-play unit. Although the power play has had some struggles, the Quebec native isn’t at fault. All of the top options for the Avalanche are together on the top unit, where most of the concerns are.
The former QMJHL Defenseman of the Year has the ability to take control of the play offensively at any given moment he’s on the ice. His elite skating ability and awareness allow him to be involved without having too many errors in his own zone. He knows when to jump in on the rush, when to pinch, and when not to do either of those things.
Girard is also great at sending out transition passes within the neutral zone. Those tape-to-tape passes to his forwards allow the play to move in one direction — away from the Avalanche net. He fits very well with the fast-paced system Bednar likes to employ, but that’s not to say he wouldn’t fit anywhere else. This type of game is commonly hammered on by most coaches in the league and is what really separates the elite defensemen from the average.
The offensive prowess of Girard goes without saying, however, with Makar being involved in so many highlight-reel plays it goes unnoticed at times. This is the unfortunate caveat that comes with playing with such a star like Makar.
In essence, every minute Girard provides for Bednar and the Avalanche is effective. Rather it is offensively or defensively, he knows how to produce when given the opportunity. In Denver, Girard has slowly become a fan-favorite, gaining a lot of recognition for his play, however, this is a sentiment that needs to be shared around the NHL.