There are many names synonymous with the defensive corps of the Nashville Predators: Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm. But there’s one up-and-coming star with a name that you should get to know soon — that’s Samuel Girard. The Predators drafted Girard,a 19-year-old defenseman from Roberval, Quebec, Canada, in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft as the 47th overall pick. And while he is smaller than other defensemen in the league, he represents the new breed of blue liners in the NHL: mobile, fast and deadly with the puck.
Prior to this season, Girard spent three with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, part of the Canadian Hockey League. While playing junior hockey, Girard was an offensive dynamo from the blue line. In 2015-16, he put up 74 points (10 goals, 64 assists) in 67 regular season games. During the playoffs, he had22 points in 21 postseason games. The following season, in 2016-17, Girard notched 75 points (9 goals, 66 assists) in just 59 games played. It’s pretty easy to see that he’s accomplished about all he can as a junior hockey player. But there’s the rub.
Due to an agreement between the National Hockey League and the Canadian Hockey League, Girard cannot be sent to Milwaukee for more seasoning with the Admirals, the AHL affiliate of the Predators organization. Instead, he has two options: stay with Nashville or head back to the junior league. Furthermore, if he plays in more than nine games in the NHL, he’ll burn one year off his entry-level contract. A few tough decisions are ahead for the Predators organization on what to do with Girard, but aside from that, he’s greatly impressed fans in both Nashville and Canada.
In his NHL debut, the home-opener and Western Conference Championship banner raising night, Girard had a solid 18:52 minutes of ice time and even tallied his first NHL point, a secondary assist on a Filip Forsberg goal. In his next game, against the Dallas Stars, Girard had a two-point night, including his first NHL goal. It’s very clear that the kid is something special for the Nashville Predators.
Earlier this summer, Girard took part in the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Mich., where he represented Team Canada. And in a fun, small-world scenario, he was partnered with fellow Predators prospect Dante Fabbro, who’s currently playing college hockey at Boston University. If he does go back to the junior league, he could be on Team Canada for the World Juniors.
“It’s an honor to represent your country,” Girard said. “All the players want to be here. It’s good for me for hockey life, so I’m very excited.”
Ahead of this season, Girard received his first taste of professional hockey at the end of last year with the Milwaukee Admirals — to clarify, a player in junior hockey can be assigned to the American Hockey League only once his junior season is finished. Girard dressed for six games last season with Milwaukee, and he even tallied his first professional goal as an Admiral.
“Those games helped for my career and the rest of my life,” said Girard on his brief Milwaukee experience. “It was a great experience to be with those guys in Milwaukee and to play some pro games. It was good for me.”
Fast forward to Predators training camp this season, and once again Girard impressed not only the fans, but the coaching staff. This past year, Girard was one of the last cuts made to the Predators roster out of the preseason. This year, he made the cut, at least for now, and has been able to enjoy his first career start, NHL point and goal; all of which occurred in just three games. With a few injuries to Nashville’s blue line, Girard will have opportunities to continue to make a good impression.
“I just want to continue to play my game,” said Girard. “I want to bring more pucks to the net, so that’s something I want to work on.”
He has some flash to him with puck handling and isn’t afraid to mix it up. He can make you miss with one move and then be in the right position to stop you from scoring. In the next game he plays, watch him closely. He’s solid positionally, but also great on the breakout. He’s already beginning to develop a signature spin move as well.
The future is obviously bright for the young defender, and it’ll be exciting to follow his development into a blue line star.