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Samuel Girard was acquired in the three-team November trade that sent franchise icon Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators.
When Girard arrived in the November deal, he was immediately dropped in the lineup and the team had four games to decide whether or not to keep him for the remainder of the season or return him to the QMJHL. His showings in Sweden were enough to convince management to keep him and he finished the season in an Avalanche sweater, much to the delight of…well, everyone except the guys who had to play against him.
Girard came in with the reputation as an offensive dynamo who could pile up the points but had major question marks about how his diminutive frame would hold up in the face of the physical NHL. By the end of the year, he had left most wanting more from the offensive side but had won over sharp observers with his IQ and ability to read the play on defense. His size was mitigated by his excellent feet and impressive hockey IQ. His ability to mirror the movements of the forwards trying to work their way around him was impressive to watch and only on a couple of occasions (notably the Leon Draisaitl OT winner in Edmonton) did he badly misplay a situation that cost the Avalanche dearly.
More often than not, Girard was a solid contributor who could be counted on to provide steady play in most games. As the year wore on and he grew more comfortable with NHL speed, he began to find his confidence offensively and looked like a two-way star in the making. While he only played in half of the playoff series against Nashville, he was a bright spot in a series full of them for Colorado and he provided an enormous amount of optimism for next season and beyond.
There are a couple of moments that really stand out for me. That sequence against the St. Louis Blues where he broke his stick and yet kept controlling play was memorable and certainly fun to watch, but it wasn’t very impactful on the game as a whole. Instead, I’m going with a different moment against the Blues. You know which one I’m talking about.
Girard’s goal to open the scoring in Game 82 against St. Louis capped an impressive first period from the Avalanche that saw them jump all over the Blues early but not be able to capitalize on their chances. Girard’s bullet from the point beat goaltender Jake Allen and his explosion of energy gave onlookers a glimpse into the intensity the normally reserved Girard was playing with on that night. The goal helped catapult Colorado into a runaway victory and put them into the postseason for the first time since 2013-14.
Girard is under contract for two more seasons on his entry-level deal. He isn’t even eligible to begin talking extension until next summer if the Avs even wanted to go that route. He just turned 20 two weeks ago and is in line for a big bump in his minutes. He had plenty of growing pains in his rookie year but he flashed enough high-end brilliance that Colorado fans should be nothing but excited for his future to unfold.
As Nikita Zadorov solidified himself as a physical force in the NHL, the combination of Zadorov and Girard on Colorado’s left side gives them a one-two punch on that side that they’ve been lacking for a very long time. They have the potential to be the best left-handed combination in Avalanche history should they both continue their upwards development trajectories. Girard is a player who should see more power play opportunities and his ability filling in for Tyson Barrie last season may give the Avalanche reason to look to move on from Barrie next summer if Girard makes a significant leap offensively next season.
Girard was downright fun to watch this past season and considering his youth there is only reason for belief in a very bright future. His offense was sporadic this year but he produced on the power play when given bigger minutes and his confidence with the puck swelled in the second half of the season.
His defensive play was the real bright spot for Girard this year as not much was expected of him on that side of the ice but he outperformed all expectations (at least for me) and thrived in his own zone. If he can combine the offensive terror he was in juniors with the steady defensively brilliance he occasionally flashed last season, Girard has a chance to become a big-time minute-muncher for the Avalanche as soon as next season.
It will be a work in progress but so far Girard’s acquisition has drastically changed the future outlook of the Avalanche defense.