The Colorado Avalanche are surging behind brilliant Samuel Girard

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard (49). Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Colorado Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard (49). Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Samuel Girard has been playing on a different level for the red-hot Colorado Avalanche.

As far as I can tell, Samuel Girard has a rambler’s spirit.  I’ve never met the man, but there’s something about the way the Colorado Avalanche defenseman gambols up and down the ice that leaves me certain of it.

Girard is not what you’d call a North-South player.  Unlike his team’s (offensive) engine, Nathan MacKinnon, his game is not to barrel straight ahead like Adrian Peterson daring opposing defenders to stand in the way of his inevitable progress.

Instead, Girard reminds more of the kind of running back you see reversing his field on every carry, resting his faith in his speed’s inevitable ability to open up the angle necessary to round the corner.  I’m talking about the type of player you watch dominate in college whom you presume without a second thought will never find an NFL home, the raw foot speed no longer enough on which to sustain a livelihood.

Except for Sam Girard, there is no other level in which the limitations of his skillset and approach might be exposed.  Girard is in the NHL, playing high-leverage minutes, and he dominates.  At five-on-five this season, the young blueliner boasts a 61.8 CF%, 60.95 xG%, and 62.26 GF % (via Natural Stat Trick).  If fancy stats aren’t your bag, Girard’s five goals and 20 assists in 30 games are enough to land him in top ten among all NHL defensemen in points.

Samuel Girard (49)
Samuel Girard #49 of the Colorado Avalanche. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Samuel Girard’s brilliance powering the Colorado Avalanche’s latest surge

Of course, to consider Girard’s brilliance through the prism of statistics is a bit like appreciating a Matisse by counting the number of shapes you see; I suppose in a basic way you’re aware of what’s going on, but the wonder is lost.

As good as the numbers are, the visual experience of watching Girard is nothing short of breathtaking.  While speed (and in particular lateral speed) is Girard’s calling card, he has a mesmerizing knack for playing the game at whatever pace he pleases.

Whether walking the blueline looking for a seam through which to thread a pass or searching for a lane out of his defensive end, Girard never allows his opposition to dictate his tempo.  He feels no reluctance at making a nonchalant twirl anywhere on the ice, giving himself a little extra time before deciding where to skate or pass the puck.

If you haven’t watched much of the Avalanche this year, I’d suggest you start the moment you get the chance.  If that statement applies to you, you would be forgiven for presuming that Girard is a unique player at least on his team if not in the league, but, in fact, Girard has a smooth skating doppelgänger in his more heralded teammate Cale Makar.

Since breaking into the league two seasons ago following a pair of transcendent seasons at UMass, Makar has dazzled NHL fans with a style that bears an uncanny resemblance to the one I just attributed to Girard—dazzling skater, fearless puck carrier and five-on-five play driving force.

Makar’s efforts earned him last season’s Calder Trophy and early Norris hype this year.  Unfortunately, Makar—like seemingly every Avalanche player of any repute at some point over the last two seasons—missed over a month due to injury.  More than likely, this extended absence will be enough to eliminate him from the Norris race in an already abbreviated season.

Freed from Makar’s shadow, Girard flourished, not just keeping the Avs’ afloat in his teammate’s absence but pushing them to new heights.  Colorado won seven of the ten games the former Minuteman missed, securing a vice grip around second place in the West division.  Makar returned in time for consecutive drubbings of the fun-and-frisky Minnesota Wild by a cumulative score of 11-1, affirming the might of a full Colorado arsenal.

As if Makar and Girard weren’t enough, Joe Sakic’s bunch has a third defensive jewel in 2019 Fourth Overall pick Bowen Byram.  At just nineteen, Byram makes twenty-two-year-olds Makar and Girard appear old maids.  The early signs indicate that he is cut from the same puck-moving cloth as his (comparatively) veteran teammates.

I’m not sure whether Girard really is the best of the young defensemen, but I do know that, on a team that could easily have been decimated by injuries, it is Girard who has provided the steadiest blueline presence.  If the NHL season ended today, that performance would more than merit the Norris Trophy in my estimation.

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More importantly for Colorado Avalanche fans, the depth along the blueline for a team with Girard, Makar, Byram, and  offseason addition Devon Toews is unparalleled across the National Hockey League.  Pair that with a forward group featuring stars like Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog alongside depth players like Brandon Saad, Andre Burakovsky, and Joonas Donskoi, and it feels as though anything less than a run to the Stanley Cup Final this year would be a disappointment.  Thanks to the youth of the power trio of Girard, Makar, and Byram, and you can expect that to remain the case in Colorado for seasons to come.