When the Nashville Predators arrived at the 47th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, Samuel Girard was still available, a pleasant surprise to the club's scouting staff.
Girard, just a month past his 18th birthday at the time, was fresh off of a QMJHL Defenseman of the Year honor after leading the league in assists (64) and points (74), and another 22 points in the postseason. Add that to a CHL Sportsman of the Year award and a QMJHL First Team All-Star nod, and Girard was considered by some to be a steal.
After all, a player with those accolades isn't necessarily always available at pick No. 47 of his draft year.
One season later saw Girard with another QMJHL First Team All-Star honor after upping his assist and point total by two and one, respectively - and in eight fewer games than the year before. Add that to a six-game stint with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL, a visit that saw him score his first professional goal, and Girard is giving those in the Preds organization reason to believe they may have yet another stellar NHL defenseman on their hands in due time.
Sure, he might only stand 5-foot-10 in stature, but that won't scare anyone in the Nashville front office away (see Ellis, Ryan). What the now-19-year-old blueliner might lack in size, he more than makes up for in skill, and he'll get every chance to prove what he can do in the coming weeks as the Predators open training camp on Sept. 14.
"I arrived here with more confidence," Girard said after Friday's Predators Rookie Camp practice. "I got [a year of experience when] I was here last year, so I know what [to expect]. But it's a new year. I need to play my game. I worked a lot on my skills this summer, so I think I'm more confident here, and I [will] try to do everything possible here to make the team."
Video: Blueliner Sam Girard discusses his first taste of AHL
Nashville didn't waste any time last autumn when they inked Girard to a three-year, entry-level deal at the end of September. The native of Roberval, Quebec, appeared in two preseason games for the Predators and wasn't returned to his junior club in Shawinigan until the second round of training camp assignments in October.
Girard impressed then, and he's doing the same now, showing flashes of promise with plenty of time to grow and mature into a player who could someday make an impact at the NHL level.
"The obvious thing that you see as soon as you watch him play a hockey game, or during a drill in practice, is his skating ability," Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason said. "His cutback ability, his escapability, is just some of the best that a lot of us have ever seen. He's able to cut back on players, and then after he does cut back and he loses you, he can escape with his skating ability. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but he competes, he battles and he sticks his nose in there."
Along with the rest of the Nashville staff, Evason knows that there is still plenty of time for Girard's game to mature with age. The defenseman has done that to date, citing a focus on improving his shot and his skating during the summer months - attributes that will only improve.
"He's already a mature person - if you speak to him you'll recognize that right away - but he has time to grow physically," Evason said. "He's not the biggest guy, but you can always get stronger, you can always get faster because of your strength, so that's something that he's going to need with natural maturation."
When it comes to producing defensemen, the NHL club in Nashville usually comes to the forefront. Just as it often is, the prospect pool is deep and promising on the blue line, with Girard's name near the top.
And as Girard learns what it takes to make it at the top level in the world, he's got quite a crop to learn from - which he intends on doing.
"All the D, they are so good," Girard said. "[P.K.], Subban, [Roman] Josi, [Mattias] Ekholm, Ellis, they're all players I need to look at. I want to be like them, I want to play like them and it's good for me to have them on the same team."