Colorado Avalanche: How Samuel Girard Could Work with Erik Johnson

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 02: Erik Johnson
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 02: Erik Johnson /

The Colorado Avalanche are going to pair Samuel Girard with Erik Johnson. This could be an exciting and/or scary development.

The Colorado Avalanche are probably not sending defenseman Samuel Girard back to his major juniors team. Instead, they appear to be considering him for the top pairing:

The question since the Avalanche acquired Girard in the Matt Duchene trade has been whether they’d keep him with the NHL team and burn a year off his entry-level contract or send him back to the QMJHL Milwaukee Admirals. Girard played five games with the Nashville Predators, giving Colorado just four games to decide his fate for the 2017-18 season.

Two games in, coach Jared Bednar has remarked that he hasn’t heard anything about potential roster moves, meaning Girard looks good to stay with the NHL team.

And the Avs are going to go ahead and throw him into the fire in the top pairing with Erik Johnson.

Erik Johnson’s and Samuel Girard’s Styles

colorado avalanche
SAN JOSE, CA – NOVEMBER 01: Samuel Girard /

Erik Johnson is big — 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. He’s an elite two-way defenseman. He’s never going to be the top scorer on the team, or maybe not even the blueline. However, he’s going to make the team better every time he takes the ice.

The Avalanche are a young team, especially on the blueline. Therefore, Johnson has had to focus more on the defensive aspects of his game this season. His skills run a wide range, from big hits to fine positioning. Johnson is a defenseman who knows how to block a puck or disrupt a play to the Avalanche’s best advantage.

Does Erik Johnson still make what he calls pizza mistakes? Yes. He’s been known to pinch in at the wrong time or otherwise blow coverage. However, Johnson takes the ice against the most elite forwards in the world — your Sidney Crosby, Conor McDavid, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Ovechkin players.  If anyone can stop those players on the Avalanche, it’s Johnson.

That’s part of what makes the Johnson-Girard pairing so intriguing. In so many ways, Samuel Girard is the opposite of Johnson. He’s a diminutive 5-foot-10, 161 pounds. At 19, he’s 10 years younger — and less experienced — than Erik.

And he’s a pure offensive defenseman. Indeed, Elite Prospects calls his offense “flashy.” He’s known for moving the puck up the ice and for either shooting or making very accurate passes.

However, there are aspects to both players’ games that are similar.

How Johnson’s and Girard’s Styles Mesh

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Both Erik Johnson and Samuel Girard are known for being excellent skaters. Johnson is deceptively speedy — he seems to be moving slowly, but his long stride eats up the ice. Girard is more of a dynamic skater.

Besides the decade difference in age, the other big dividing factor between these two players is size. Girard is a full six inches shorter and 60 pounds lighter. Samuel is bound to look like a kid next to Erik, which he is.

That said, it’s likely Girard is meant to learn everything Johnson has to teach. Girard can learn a lot about positioning and shot blocking. It’s highly unlikely he’ll ever be as physical as Johnson, but that’s not the only way to get under opponents’ skin.

Erik Johnson’s responsibility on the ice will allow Samuel Girard to experiment with creativity in his offense.

Johnson has some of his own ideas of how the two will play together — after remarking that Girard is as poised as a young Drew Doughty:

The scary factor is going to come in when Johnson takes the ice against his usual foes — the likes of Seguin and McDavid and Alex Ovechkin coming up tomorrow. How is the youngster going to fare against that level of competition?

Nonetheless, pairing Girard with Johnson makes more sense for the Colorado Avalanche than matching him with Barrie. In fact, that pairing lasted for two games. While their Relative Corsi For percentage was positive — 4.61 — they had only 43.14 in the Corsi For category.

(In case you’re wondering, according to stats on Corsica Hockey, Johnson pairs especially well with Chris Bigras, showing a Relative Corsi of 8.3 and a Corsi For of 54.55. Barrie has spent limited time with Anton Lindholm, but they played well together during that time.)

Next: Big Z Must Play Every Night

Fancy stats aside, the Colorado Avalanche pairing Samuel Girard with Erik Johnson will be an exciting — albeit scary — development in their season.