CHL Notebook: Shawinigan’s Girard beating NHL hangover


Samuel Girard was the top scoring defenceman in the QMJHL for the second year in a row. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Samuel Girard, buoyed by the opportunity to tap into P.K. Subban’s wisdom during Nashville Predators training camp, has been the epitome of electric since rejoining the Shawinigan Cataractes.

The NHL hangover, so-called, sometimes weighs more heavily on players going through their first training camp and/or ones who have an extended stay. The talented Girard was able to draw out his experience with the Predators almost until the final cuts before returning to Shawinigan. In his first seven games back, all the diminutive defenceman has done is tally 17 points to quickly pull into a tie for first in D-man scoring. Stoked by Girard, the Cataractes (11-1-0-0, .917 point pct.) are first overall in the QMJHL and take an 11-win streak into this week.

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Given that Girard is 5-foot-9 and 166 lb., it is understandable why he stayed on the draft board until Nashville stepped up at No. 47 overall in June. It wasn’t necessarily due to old-school skepticism about players of modest physical proportions. If anything, the more widespread willingness among NHL scouting departments to take a flyer on the smallish skilled player might have created a bottleneck of similar talents. Taking a centre who is 5-9, 166 is also an easier sell than a short defenceman.

That said, Girard won the unofficial defenceman scoring title last season with 74 points (10 goals, 64 assists), before fashioning an excellent post-season run. Meantime, there was probably some tangible benefit to joining a NHL organization whose No. 1 defenceman, Subban, was also a mid-second-round pick out of junior and didn’t fit the traditional model for the position.

Shawinigan coach Claude Bouchard also emphasizes defence, as evidenced by the Cataractes having allowed fewer than two goals per game. That might help Girard with honing the anticipation that’s necessary for a player who relies on positioning and a strong stick to off-set a lack of bulk.

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Girard played top-four minutes for Canada at the 2015 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament, which would put him in good stead for world junior consideration at some point. Meantime, stat nerds might wonder how high his point totals might climb. Since hockey opened up in 2005-06 with an emphasis on phasing out clutching and grabbing, only two Q defencemen have scored more than 80 points in a season. Guillaume Gélinas had 92 as an overage in Val-d’Or three seasons ago, while long-time NHLer Keith Yandle had 84 for Moncton in 2005-06.

Struggle is real for Steelheads, Bulldogs
The OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs and Mississauga Steelheads can sometimes be lumped in together, since each has the challenge of filling a large arena in one of Canada’s largest cities. Each is in the Eastern Conference, too, so the bar for success isn’t overly high.

Each team, superficially at least, seems to be in similar straits after a full month of play. Mississauga (5-5-1-1) did not have a regulation-time win last weekend after moving on from Sean Day via a blockbuster trade with the MasterCard Memorial Cup-host Windsor Spitfires. The Bulldogs (7-4-1-0, .577 point pct.) had a winless weekend and have just three points in their past five games.

The other common thread, though, is that each team is missing a key elder. Mississauga’s overage goalie Matthew Mancina is going through the brain injury protocol, and his participation might have helped preserve the two multi-goal leads that evaporated during a 1-0-1-1 weekend. Hamilton overage centre Niki Petti (elbow) is also sidelined. For all the hoopla over the 17- and 18-year-olds, they can’t do everything.

The upshot for the Steelheads is that the Mike McLeod-Owen Tippett-Nathan Bastian line has been productive. Tippett has 11 goals across the past six games.

The Bulldogs, who have centres MacKenzie Entwistle and Matthew Strome commanding scouts’ attention, have had some regression defensively and on the power play. Like with everything else, time will tell if that’s a fluctuation or deeper-rooted.

Regina’s 2018 Cup bid hits snag
The Regina Pats recently gained the WHL’s blessing to the represent the league in the bidding process for the 2018 MasterCard Memorial Cup. Just one problem, though: as the Regina Leader-Post reported last weekend, the Pats’ ownership and the operators of the Brandt Centre do not have a lease in place. That is kind of one of the more important boxes to check when trying to land the CHL’s biggest event.

On the ice, at least, the Pats have the makings to be a credible host team next season. In addition to catalytic centre Sam Steel (Anaheim), the 1998 and ’99 cohort includes early-season scoring leaders such as Jake Leschyshyn, Nick Henry and Lane Zablocki.

The OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, Oshawa Generals and Ottawa 67’s have variously expressed interest in bidding.

Canadian NHL team prospect of the week
Victor Mete, D, London Knights (OHL)

Mete played last weekend despite having the flu, and contributed six points toward the Knights’ 3-0 weekend. The Montreal Canadiens fourth-rounder helped London cover for having four mainstays—including left wing Max Jones (Anaheim)—out with injuries.

As the 100th-overall pick in June, the 18-year-old Mete is a longer-term investment for the Habs. There will be an ample window for the speedy defenceman to refine his all-around game.

New name to know
Kyle Topping, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

In his 11th WHL game last Saturday, the Rockets rookie centre scored a hat trick for his first three goals in the league. The rule of thumb is that it takes 10 games to adapt to the pace of major junior, so breaking out to that extent is rare.

Topping, a 5-foot-9, 185-lb. native of Ganges, B.C., was an 11th-round choice in the bantam draft two years ago. After playing in the BCHL last season, he worked his way on to the Rockets at training camp. Most of the prospect talk in Kelowna, understandably, centres around the Bros. Foote, defenceman Cal and rookie left-winger Nolan, the sons of long-time Colorado Avalanche star Adam Foote. But it’s worth noting there is more there than the players with the NHL bloodline.

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