Get To Know: Zemgus Girgensons

girgs3Through his first three NHL games, Zemgus Girgensons has been one of the Buffalo Sabres’ most impressive forwards. His work ethic and dedication to the game has won the respect of his team, especially Ron Rolston.

Rolston said on Friday that Girgensons plays with a lot of effort and has been playing the game the right way. Girgensons has been playing exceptionally well and has been putting in the extra effort ever since camp began in September.

The Buffalo Sabres drafted Zemgus Girgensons with the 14th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. Girgensons, who was coming off a 55-point season (24+21) with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, was the highest drafted Latvian-born player ever drafted in the NHL. 

TSN’s Bob McKenzie described Girgensons’ game as a “Ryan Callahan or Dustin Brown style of game.” Callahan and Brown both play a physical, hard-nosed and gritty style of game. Both are leaders on and off the ice, and both help contribute offensively and defensively to their team.

He is smart about when to line someone up and not take himself out of a play and his heart for hockey is unlike any other player in the game. For example, in a playoff game in Dubuque, Girgensons tried to deliver a hit that broke his jaw. Girgensons decided to stay on the ice for the rest of the period and helped set up a goal to help lead his teammates over the U.S. National Development team. Talk about determination, Girgensons has got it.

Girgensons had originally chosen to go to college and play hockey for the Vermont Catamounts. After some thought, Girgensons decided to skip college and start his professional hockey career in the AHL with the Rochester Americans. 

In 61 regular season games with the Americans last year, Girgensons scored six goals and had eleven assists. The first half of the year started slow for Girgensons.  He was timid, and not getting involved on too many occasions.  

After recovering from a concussion, a fire was lit from under Girgensons and the production started to come along. In the Calder Cup playoffs, the Toronto Marlies swept Girgensons and the Americans in three games. However, Girgensons managed to score three goals and be one of the best players for Rochester in the series.

This offseason, Girgensons stayed healthy and kept working hard to further develop his skills. When it came time for training camp, Zemgus Girgensons’ goal was to make the Sabres roster. He had a lot of competition amongst him such as Joel Armia, Johan Larsson, Corey Tropp and Brian Flynn.

Girgensons impressed the organization yet again, and displayed his physical and mental skills throughout camp and the preseason. He has shown that his mental game has matured beyond leaps and bounds since last season. In the preseason, Girgensons scored three goals, added an assist and was a plus-five in five games. Along with that, his work on the penalty kill and with his line mates earned Girgensons a spot on the 23-man roster.

girgsOn Wednesday, Girgensons scored his first career goal in his first NHL game. A puck that Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard tried to clear from behind the net deflected off of Brian Flynn and towards front of the net.

Girgensons collected the loose puck and put it home to make the game a 2-1 score. Girgensons was impressive by getting some quality time on the penalty kill, throwing his body around, and getting 11:23 total ice time.

“It definitely would be a better moment if we won, but it’s still my first NHL goal so I’ll just take the best out of it that I can,” Girgensons said.

Friday night, Girgensons had two shots on goal, two hits and increased his ice time by almost a minute in the 1-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators. Besides the statistics, Girgensons played aggressively along the boards and his speed helped himself stay in play. 

Throughout the game, Girgensons was aware of where he needed to be on the ice by always checking around him to see where the Senators were. Girgensons also played the puck well and created some quality opportunities for his teammates.  Just trying to keep it simple and play the game it is supposed to be played.  

Before the game in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Girgensons talked about playing against Crosby for the first time. 

“Crosby is one of the best players in the world. Now, at age 19, I never thought I would play against him. I look forward to playing against him.  There’s nothing really that I would be intimidated by, he’s just another player to me.”

In Saturday’s game, Girgensons once again played on a line with Porter and Flynn. Girgensons played physical by taking guys out of the plays and had a couple of blocked shots. He also had a couple of nice stick checks to get the Penguins off the puck.  

Girgensons even got some time on the penalty kill again, which he did not against Ottawa. However, on Crosby’s goal, he was caught flat-footed and ended up watching Dupuis and Crosby make the play happen. It was Girgensons’ responsibility to wrap up Dupuis, but he did not do so.

girgs2Girgensons did get a lot of experience playing a lot against the Dupuis-Crosby-Kunitz line, and over 15 minutes of total ice time. One thing Girgensons needs to work on more is trying to keep two hands on the stick to be ready for any loose puck that comes in his general direction. It is all just a part of growing as an NHL player.

“Right now I’m just trying to give it all I have because I’m not a guaranteed spot on the roster and I’m the young guy. So I have to give all I have every practice, every day,” Girgensons said.

So what can Zemgus Girgensons bring to the Buffalo Sabres organization and its fan base? Girgensons will continue to bring his physicality and grit on the ice.  He can be an offensive threat for the Sabres, and provides depth for the forward position.

Girgensons will continue to play a smart defensive game, and supply quality ice time for the penalty kill. He will also be willing to drop the gloves if it is called upon him. Expect Girgensons to become a role player for the Sabres, playing in late-game and shut down situations.

Girgensons will have a bright future with the Buffalo Sabres. Will Girgensons be an all-star in the NHL?  That is too early to tell. Right now, it has to be something for Buffalo to feel good about while they begin their “rebuild” mode. The 19-year old rookie has only gotten his feet wet in the NHL, but his professionalism and pure determination will get him to where he wants to go.

Which Sabres player would you like to see profiled next? Let us know below.

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