The Ups and Downs of Sam Girard
Early on, cornerstone defenseman Erik Johnson said of Sam Girard:
"“He’s lightyears ahead of any 18-, 19-year-old defenseman I’ve seen in their first 10 games since maybe [Drew] Doughty…It doesn’t happen too often where you see a guy that young step in right away. He has had some time in the minors, but he looks like a special player. “His poise with the puck is just so good. A lot of young players don’t want to make a mistake, so they get rid of it right away. His panic level is so low. He wants the puck and makes plays with it.”"
That’s some very high level praise from the captain of the blueline. In any case, Johnson did add a caveat — “the hardest thing at this level is to be consistent.” He acknowledged that the sample size was small to judge by at that point (just a few days after Girard joined the team), but he though Sam would do well.
Naturally, all players go through their ups and downs. That’s going to be especially true of a teenage rookie. As Johnson noted, and as we’ve all seen, Girard doesn’t shy away from the puck. Here he is in his first-ever Avs game skating circles around an impressive (at the time) Ottawa Senators defense:
No, that is not a player who’s afraid to hold onto the puck to make a play. He continued to be impressive through most of November.
However, later November, early December, the inevitable chink started showing in his armor. He started making some bad decisions with the puck and a lot of turnovers. A turnover behind the Avs net led to a goal, and Girard saw his ice time drastically shrink.
We saw the rookie struggle. He was playing against bigger, more aggressive, far more experienced players. As his ice time shrunk, perhaps some of his confidence did as well. Through mid-December, he started disappearing.
Some rookies might shrink in on themselves. However, Girard is one who’s known for being willing to learn. He returned to the basics of his game — his skating and his ice vision. While he didn’t create any scoring chances directly, he started drawing penalties that often led to Avalanche goals. His ice time continued to be short, but he made the most of it to earn his time back.
By January, Sam Girard was having to fill in again. Tyson Barrie went down with an injury. And Sammy started striding into his own again. He earned a point here and there. And he continued to be good with his feet and his stick.
A few little hiccups came about in late January as Girard started testing his offense more. He had the solid basics of his game under control again, so it was time for him to branch out.
And then it finally happened — Sam Girard’s first Colorado Avalanche goal:
That’s not to say Girard didn’t suffer a few more downs — he had lackluster performances here and there punctuated with plays like that above no-stick defense.
As of right now, Sam Girard is playing very responsible defense. He’s moving pucks. And he’s creating offensive chances, even if they don’t always pan out.