Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic was understandably stubborn about the return he required on a Matt Duchene trade. Under his guidance, Colorado is poised to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five seasons. His team’s leading point producer over that time was in the prime of his career and demanding out. A few years removed from a Ryan O’Reilly trade that has become a bust for the Avs, Sakic simply had no choice but to come away with a convincing haul.
The long wait for a trade was justified by the complex nature of the three-way transaction that came to fruition. Duchene was sent to Ottawa, Kyle Turris was sent to Nashville, and a whole slew of prospects and picks (plus goaltender Andrew Hammond) were sent from both teams to Colorado.
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Rookie defenseman Sam Girard, collected from the Predators, was Colorado’s most important acquisition. The 19-year-old was drafted by Nashville 47th overall in 2016, but deserved to go much higher. He lit up the QMJHL with 10 goals and 64 assists in 2015-16. To find defensemen who have put up similar pre-draft numbers, you would have to go back to the 1990s, when the league looked like pond hockey. In particular, his numbers blew Kris Letang’s out of the water.
Girard surprisingly earned a spot on the Predators’ roster out of this season’s training camp, and he justified the decision. He registered a goal and two assists in his five games played. Aside from the points, what stood out in his first few NHL games was his ability skate his way out of danger and quickly move the puck up the ice.
Based on three games tracked by analyst Corey Sznajder, Girard has successfully moved the puck out of the defensive zone 17 out of 19 attempts (89.5 percent), and almost half of those finished with Nashville maintaining possession. Those numbers put him second among Nashville defenseman, and well above average by NHL standards; the average exit rate last season was 77 percent, and 41 percent with possession, according to Sznajder.
The obvious knock against Girard is his defense, which is partially related to his size. Girard was measured at 5-9, 160 pounds at the 2016 combine. Though he’s not one to back down from a battle or post-whistle scrum, the small frame does hurt his ability to defend NHL forwards. He also is too timid in defending the rush. It’s safe to say that Girard will never be a two-way stud, but if he was then Nashville would have never made him available.
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Colorado’s NHL defensive corps is slow and lacking in offensive firepower. Girard immediately gives them a potential all-star puck mover and point producer.
Vladislav Kamenev, Nashville’s second-round pick in 2012, has built an impressive resume in the last few seasons. He captained the Russians at the world junior championships in 2015-2016, scoring five goals in seven games and helping them win the silver medal. He has 97 points in 138 career AHL games, and was named to the AHL All-Star Game in 2016.
Kamenev is a well-rounded, two-way center, though he has also played on the wing. He has decent goal-scoring ability, but does not shoot the puck very often. Instead, he is more of a playmaker, good at holding the puck in the middle of the ice and finding teammates in scoring position.
With Nashville’s AHL club, he was not only responsible for matching up with the opposition’s top lines, but also on the first penalty kill unit. His 6-2, 194-pound frame allows him to take up a lot of space, and he does a proficient job of reading passes and picking them off.
Since the 2016-17 season, Kamenev has produced 60 points in 83 AHL games. Using Rob Vollman’s AHL-to-NHL translation metric, which is equivalent to roughly 28 points at the NHL level based on Vollman’s own conversion metrics.
Barely removed from his 21st birthday, there is still plenty of room for growth in Kamenev’s skill. Perhaps he lacks high-end upside that Nashville maybe initially thought he possessed after his world juniors performance, but Kamenev is a safe bet to be a bonafide NHLer in a third-line, maybe even second-line role.
In fact, Sakic confirmed that the Avalanche plan on promoting him to the NHL very soon.
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Center Shane Bowers was the prospect Ottawa sent Colorado’s way, months after drafting him 28th overall. For the sake of full disclosure, my viewings of Bowers are limited.
Bowers is a two-way center who could be described as a “safe” pick by the Senators, which really translates to “low upside.” Canucks Army does great work using data to project prospects. The players who put up numbers such as Bowers’ in the USHL last season (51 points in 60 games) tended to develop into depth NHLers; RJ Umberger, Adam Hall, and Justin Abdelkader were among the matches. It is worth nothing that the USHL has become a tougher league in recent years, though.
There are also specific parts of Bowers’ game that are encouraging.
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So far, he has four goals and two assists in 10 games for Boston University, not a bad start for a true freshman. He was a big shooter at the USHL level, and has carried that over to college, as he ranks second among BU forwards in shots (24). And though he is a little undersized, he plays a coarse, responsible defensive game.
Bowers does not have the flash or upside typically expected of someone drafted in the first round, but he is a legitimate prospect making an impact for one of the top hockey schools in the United States. Certainly no throw-in.