I am of the opinion that Samuel Girard will be the steal of the 2016 NHL draft. I had a few opportunities to watch him play with Shawinigan this past season, and what I saw was extremely impressive. He is a highly mobile defenceman, one that gives opposing teams fits with the way he can create offence from the back end.
Good puck-moving defenders tend to come at a premium, but Girard being undersized will push him further down in the draft than he should probably go. As a result, the team that scoops him up will be adding an excellent prospect to their ranks, at great value to boot.
Birthplace: Roberval, Québec
Height: 5'9" Weight: 161lbs
He began his QMJHL career at the age of 16, and burst on to the scene with 43 points in 64 games. Impressive production for his age, but it got even better this past season. in 2015-16, he led all QMJHL defencemen with 74 points in 67 games, 15 more points than the next player below him.
He followed that up with a fantastic playoff run, scoring 22 points in 21 games. That was good enough for an all-time Cataractes record for playoff scoring by a defenceman. He was a major driving force for the Cataractes all year, and a big part of what made them one of the top teams in the QMJHL.
Half of his 64 assists on the year were primary. He is a ridiculously good passer, whether breaking out of the zone or creating offence at the other end. His vision and hockey IQ garner rave reviews, as he seems to always make the right play with the puck.
He did the bulk of his work on the power play, scoring 38 of his 74 points in those situations. Even so, he still led all QMJHL defence in even-strength scoring with 36 points. The power play is just a very strong suit of his, where he acts as quarterback and leads a lethal attack thanks to his vision and passing.
He is an exceptional skater as well, and puts that talent on display whether he's coming out of the zone or losing defenders at the offensive blue line. Protects the puck well, and has great hands for a defenceman. He has basically every tool you would want a puck moving defenceman to have.
His shot isn't bad, but it could definitely use some work in order to make him more of a scoring threat at the blue line. As it stands he has a pass-first mentality, which he does very well, but if he could develop a heavier shot it will make him a more complete player.
Girard is a highly intelligent, puck-moving blueliner who simply outthinks his competition. He is a high-end, fluid skater, light on his feet, excellent backward skater who uses his edges to carve in on attacking forwards and close gaps off the rush to contain them. Girard uses his quickness to intercept passes that most players wouldn’t get to. He’s an aggressive defender with an active stick. He always has his head up, and exits the zone with a hard, accurate pass to find teammates in stride up ice. Girard’s not yet an excellent defender, but he controls the game and rarely gets exposed one on one. He doesn’t rush the play under pressure, but instead awaits the best option to open up. On the physical side, we are impressed to see that despite his small size, he is not afraid to deliver some solid hits or to annoy his opponents after the whistle. His skating is an asset as he loves to jump into the rush and regain his position easily, thanks to his great mobility. When he has the puck, he shows great vision, intelligence and patience in his playmaking ability. One example of his smarts is his work on the power play.
Girard is a strong quarterback from the point as he has the smarts and vision to fake a slap shot and move laterally to open up a lane before passing the puck to a teammate inside coverage or to the side of the net to create a great scoring opportunity. Although he can easily be pushed around in his own zone at times, he is smart and waits for just the right time to box out his man in front of the net or close on the attacker with his speed before taking a whack at the puck, knocking it off his opponent’s stick and playing to his strengths. Girard protects the puck well with his feet in one-on-one battles to come away with it or kick it to a teammate. He quickly recognizes when the puck is loose and wins foot races to retrieve it. Girard moves with explosive feet laterally on his inside edges to open himself up and find a shooting lane. He’s just a real effective, smart, mature and cerebral player.
Samuel Girard ignited his draft stock early on and kept adding fuel to the fire throughout the QMJHL season landing as top D and top 25 scorer in the league. The writing was on the wall for Girard to have a monster season with the way he graced the HC Hlinka camp in August. 2nd in PTS% of team GF with 27%, Girard led all CHL first year draft eligibles in A, PTS, PTS/GP, and tied for 6th in PP goals. With a small rate of change in scoring in the last third of 5% going from 1.09 to 1.14, prelim research shows Girard has a high probability of exceeding his already gaudy totals next year.
Girard is a quality skater who has exceptional agility and evasive turning ability specifically in the defensive zone and on the point. He misses out in top end speed, but it doesn’t really matter because he’s fluid and his endurance is elite. A player who conserves his energy with forwards bearing down on him, Girard prefers to use positioning and stickwork to break up plays. Once out of the defensive zone, you will see Girard take calculated runs and try to hit pretty hard. Girard is an A+ passer with vision and space attainment to dish. His shooting needs a lot of help (7PPG vs. 3ESG) to become more of a rounded threat. The reality is an elite offensive defenseman like Girard probably misses a first round selection by an inch, literally.
Since mid-way through his rookie season, Girard has been counted on by the Shawinigan Cataractes to play quality minutes in all situations and to provide offense from the backend, and did not disappoint. He is a very mobile offensive defender who plays a smart and competitive two-way game. He possesses very good game vision and hockey sense, and moves the puck effectively to forwards or if time and spaces allows, will rush the puck. Really worked hard at both ends of the ice, with a good stick and body positioning. He lacks the size and strength to be effective in defensive zone. Long term project, but the offensive upside is worth the wait.
Future Considerations: 27th
Central Scouting Service: 38th (North American skaters)
Hockey Prospect Black Book: 70th
DraftBuzz Hockey: 56th
The rankings are all over the place, and there seems to be no consensus on where exactly he should go in the draft. I consider this quote from Hockeypropect.com scout Jérôme Bérubé as being a perfect summation of why opinions are so varied.
"Toughest to rank and project of any player in the QMJHL. His puck skills and vision are high-end, but his size is an issue. I believe he will find a way to become a PP specialist at some point in the NHL. On skills alone, he’s a top-10 talent in this draft."
It seems that the only real concern people have is size. At 5'9" he is particularly small for a defenceman, and it seems that greatly affected his rankings. He is woefully underrated, and that is what will end up making him a big steal this year.
The numbers don't lie, and when you take into account what he put up as a 16-year-old, and how he followed that up this past season, it is clear that he should be ranked higher. But the lower rankings in his case are going to wind up benefiting whatever team ends up getting him.
Were he several inches taller, he'd probably be long gone in the first round, possibly even garnering top-10 consideration. The Habs are thin at left defence in their prospect pool, and Girard would be a perfect addition to bolster that position for the future.
Just take a look at how Girard stacks up against some other CHL defencemen who are eligible for this year's draft. By the way, they all have higher average rankings than he does.
|Samuel Girard||Shawinigan Cataractes||QMJHL||67||10||32||32||74|
|Olli Juolevi||London Knights||OHL||57||9||18||14||41|
|Jakub Chychrun||Sarnia Sting||OHL||62||11||18||20||49|
|Mikhail Sergachev||Windsor Spitfires||OHL||67||17||23||17||57|
|Libor Hajek||Saskatoon Blades||WHL||69||3||12||11||26|
|Logan Stanley||Windsor Spitfires||OHL||64||5||6||6||17|
|Kale Clague||Brandon Wheat Kings||WHL||71||6||10||24||40|
|Lucas Johansen||Kelowna Rockets||WHL||69||10||17||19||46|
If you look solely at production, the argument is there that Girard is the best CHL defenceman available, and by a healthy margin. Obviously other factors - namely size - pushed him down, but this is what stands to make him a big steal.
I absolutely love the idea of taking him with either second-round pick that they hold, if he falls out of the first, which seems likely. Were I selecting on behalf of the Canadiens, I'd take him at 39th overall to avoid the possibility of another team sniping him before the 45th pick comes around. Size be damned, this kid is the real deal.
He will definitely need a few years to develop, but based on what he's done in the QMJHL so far, he's worth the wait. Once he's ready, he has all the makings of a top-four defenceman that will also quarterback a power play unit.
There are never any guarantees, but every sign points to Samuel Girard becoming one heck of an NHL player in the future.