It is hard to believe that we are already 34 games into the NHL season. For the Buffalo Sabres, it has been a year of pure misery. Darcy Regier stated in his end-of-season comments in April that this was going to be a year of “suffering”. Now, Darcy is gone, Rolston is gone and LaFontaine and Nolan are back with the organization. After an 8-23-3 start, it is hard to look at the positives for such a slow sluggish beginning.
However, Zemgus Girgensons has been one of the bright spots for the Sabres season this year. The 2012 1st round pick has been impressive in his first NHL season, and his role with the Sabres continues to grow. The 19-year old, Latvian-born, kid has become a sensation in Buffalo, and his style of play and his work ethic have got fans buzzing.
Back in October, I wrote about Zemgus Girgensons and his potential for the team. I talked about how Girgensons can bring some grit to the lineup and be a key contributor on both sides of the puck. Also, that Girgensons could become a role-player for the Sabres.
Girgensons has already played under two coaches in his rookie season. Under Ron Rolston’s campaign, Girgensons played in 19 games, scoring one goal and adding four assists. Girgensons was also playing a limited role, primarily on the third line. Girgensons averaged 13:26 of total ice-time, but was not playing on the penalty kill.
After Rolston was fired, Ted Nolan took the reigns and has transformed Girgensons. Nolan is the head coach for the Latvian National Team, who will play in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Girgensons is going to be on the roster for the Latvian team. Nolan was very well aware of Girgensons skills and talents in hockey before he became coach of the Sabres.
“One thing you can’t teach is the ability to work,” said Nolan. “He competes on a daily basis, and it’s great to see him be rewarded for his work lately.”
Under Nolan, we have begun to see the emergence of Girgensons’ potential. He is getting more ice-time, averaging 14:48 of total ice-time in 14 games under Nolan. Nolan has played Girgensons in key penalty kill spots, not to mention his offensive production has increased too with two goals and four assists in the 14 games. Girgensons has 65 hits this season, and has also not taken a penalty under Nolan yet.
The highlight of the year for Girgensons could be his goal against Montreal on December 7. Tyler Ennis flipped a puck to center-ice, Girgensons dangled the puck through the legs of P.K. Subban, and put the puck around Carey Price for the goal. It broke a 27-game goalless drought for him, and sparked a fire under his play.
Recently, Girgensons has been promoted to the first line with Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis. Girgensons has been all over loose pucks, and has been doing everything possible to set up plays for his line mates. On Saturday against Calgary, Girgensons made a beautiful play going down low with the puck, and then fed a pass in front to Moulson for the goal. This line continues to fire on all cylinders, and has arguably become the best line combination of the season.
For Girgensons, he knows that he has to give his all on a continuous basis. “I can’t let my work ethic go down because that’s pretty much why I’m here,” said Girgensons.
Girgensons also talks about his success on all ends of play and is confident in his play. “[It’s] just sticking to what I do, just playing my game,” Girgensons said. “Bounces will come if you keep working.”
Girgensons looks to continue to make an impression with the Sabres and the future of the organization. It is becoming clear that Nolan, and the rest of the organization, is looking to build this team around a player like Girgensons. His work ethic, attitude and his class on and off the ice are just what the Sabres need to continue their rebuild.