As if the immensity of the first-ever banner raising ceremony in Bridgestone Arena didn’t add enough buildup to the Nashville Predators home opener, throw in the NHL debut of perhaps the team’s most-hyped prospect since Seth Jones, and the Preds 6-5 win over the Philadelphia Flyers was memorable for more than one reason.
Samuel Girard may be just 19 years old, but the Preds 2016 second-round pick gave the Nashville faithful their money’s worth Tuesday night.
“There was a lot going on with the banner being raised, this wasn’t a quiet game on the road and I thought he showed so much poise from start to finish,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “There’s things that I think he will learn, like the speed of the game is much quicker and defenses are much quicker.”
“I was excited for that first shift,” Girard added. “I think my team helped me prepare pretty well for all of the stuff like it was opening night here and I was prepared for that. I think I played well.”
Girard recorded his first NHL point in the third period with an assist on the first of Filip Forsberg’s two goals. He became the first Preds player to score a point in his NHL debut since Miikka Salomaki back in Jan. 2015.
“He was very impressive,” Predators goalie Pekka Rinne said. “He was a lot of fun to watch. He played with a lot of confidence and you couldn’t tell it was his first game. He was very poised; the decisions he made, spinning guys off with the puck and some good first passes, I’m very happy for him. I’m sure he was nervous, but he didn’t show it. I was very impressed.”
In addition to trying to earn a roster spot beyond the 9 games allotted before he has to be returned to his junior league team, Girard also made his NHL debut in front of his family. His parents — Tony and Guyliane — his two brothers and sister were all in attendance to watch the Roberval, Quebec native’s first taste of the NHL.
Paired with Mattias Ekholm most of the night, Girard had the third-most shifts (27) amongst defensemen, behind Ekholm and P.K. Subban. He also had the fifth-highest time on the ice (18:52).
“I got to play with Eky (Ekholm) and it was fun,” Girard said. “He helped a lot out on the ice. I learned a lot from these players, both on and off the ice. The Preds have a good group of defenders and it’s good for me to be with them.”
Girard dazzled on the ice, showing great elusiveness and better spin moves than several NFL running backs. He showcased his speed and skillset that have many already heralding him as a future All-Star defenseman.
“I started to play hockey at four years old,” Girard said. “I would like to be elusive and use spin moves, so I just try play my game and stay the player that I am.”
Late in the game, with Nashville trailing by two goals, Girard found himself playing big minutes in critical situations. Peter Laviolette showed no reservations about Girard’s ability to handle such a big moment, entrusting the 19-year-old to help spark the team’s comeback bid.
“He’s a skilled player,” Laviolette said. “When you find yourself down by two goals, you’ve got to get the guys that can create the most on the ice. The guys with the most skill, you’ve got to get them out there as much as you can, and that meant his number getting called quite a bit.”
“It’s fun when the coach trusts you on the ice,” Girard added. “It’s an honor for me to get to play those last five minutes. I just want to help my team win.”
Girard and the Predators take on the Dallas Stars tonight at Bridgestone Arena. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.