It’s time for our annual countdown of the best 25 Nashville Predators players under 25 years old.
This is not only a tradition here at OTF, but is also something that you might see at many other SBNation NHL blogs. The premise is simple: rank the 25 best players who have not yet reached their 25th birthday (as of August 1st, 2017).
At #11, another defenseman, Samuel Girard.
Last year’s second round pick is the latest prospect in the pipeline being hailed as an exceptional talent and a victory for the organization’s scouting staff. Another example of the Preds’ picking the best available, Girard fell to the second round and into the Preds’ hands. He came into the draft with varying opinions about his potential. Many were impressed with his offensive production and skating ability, but he lost favor due to his smaller size. Regardless, Girard plays the game at an NHL level.
In his first season in the QMJHL, 2014-15, he posted an impressive 43 points in 64 games. In the following two seasons he scored 74 and 75 points (mostly assists) in 67 and 59 games, respectively. In 2016-17, he led all QMJHL defensemen in primary assists, primary points, and points overall. Who was number two on those lists? Frederic Allard. Girard shot successfully below 8%, but still managed offensive production better than most forwards.
Part of the concern about defensemen who post elite numbers in juniors is when their production happens. It should be noted that about half of his points in the last two seasons have come on the power play, however, he is still producing mostly primary assists and is outscoring other top defensive prospects like Mikhail Sergachev, Jakub Chychrun and Olli Juolevi.
In the 2016 QMJHL playoffs, Girard’s 22 points in 21 games ranks as the best performance for an under-18 defenseman since 1989. Girard won’t play heavy minutes on the penalty kill, but he is an NHL-ready power play quarterback. He prefers to shoot from the top of the circle like most power play defensemen, but his shots tend to come from closer to the slot. The biggest concern about Girard is, obviously, his size. At times, on the ice, his diminutive stature can stand out, but his agility and excellent skating ability often cover that up. Girard’s coach, Claude Bouchard, noted:
“He’s offensively better than [Kris] Letang was at his age.”
He plays the game the way defense in the NHL is progressing with an emphasis on moving the puck forward at all times and worrying more about possession than positioning. Not to beat a dead horse, but he is an elite offensive workhorse you could flourish in the Predators’ system.
The highlights above are a brilliant display of Girard’s offensive zone ability. His lateral movement along the line, passing ability, and awareness are a thing to behold. His shot is not his best skill. In fact, it’s rather below average, but his passing makes up for that. He maintains an excellent skating stride and vision up the ice. His defensive play is good but rarely needed. He can work on closing lanes and gaps in the defensive zone, but prefers to push the play up the ice and into transition than sit back and defend.
Girard will play another season in junior, but his journey to Nashville should be short after that. It’s reasonable that Girard could be in the NHL for the start of the 2019-2020 season, but it all depends on how his game reacts to the AHL at the end of this coming season and the one after.
Girard signed his entry-level contract the summer he was drafted, but it slid to start in 2017-18. He will make $70 K once he makes the AHL with a cap hit of $728,333 per season. Upon expiry in the summer of 2020 or 2021 (depending on if he jumps to the AHL this season), he will be a restricted free agent.
All stats are courtesy of eliteprospects.com and prospect-stats.com. All salary information is courtesy of capfriendly.com.