PITTSBURGH – If you think “Zamgus Girgensons” is tough to say or spell, just wait until you see the guy with that name on his birth certificate.
Girgensons, the Sabres’ second first-round pick in the NHL draft Friday night, is a 6-foot-2 mountain of fury in a flat-top buzzcut. The center would rather go through defenders than around them, but he has the ability to do both. Girgensons had 25 goals and 54 points in 49 games as captain of Dubuque of the United States Hockey League.
He also showed never-quit competitiveness, a trait occasionally lacking in Buffalo, so the Sabres sent their 21st and 42nd picks to Calgary for the right to select Girgensons with the 14th selection.
“The fans of Buffalo will love this guy,” Kevin Devine, the Sabres’ director of amateur scouting, said in Consol Energy Center. “He just will not quit. We talked to his coach, and his coach said he’s got the leadership qualities of Jonathan Toews, Mark Messier.”
Girgensons became the first Latvian-born player drafted in the opening round. His showing at the world junior tournament for his outmanned country earned the Sabres’ respect.
“He really didn’t come onto my radar until the world junior,” Devine said. “I really saw him and said, “This guy can play.’ I think they got beat, 14-0, by the Russians, and we were watching film on it and he was blocking shots with four minutes left in the game. I was shaking my head.”
Girgensons attended the Sabres’ scouting combine and talked with the team a few times, so when he heard the trade announced he figured it might mean his name was up next.
“I’m happy about it,” said the 18-year-old. “I’ve always been kind of a leader, but I’ve been more of a leader by example. I work hard on and off the ice, and that’s the way I lead.”
Girgensons, ranked as the 18th North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, feels he is physical ready to leap to the NHL. He has already committed to the University of Vermont, so a trip to the NCAAs is more likely for the immediate future.
“He plays right on the edge, plays an aggressive, physical game,” said Jack Barzee of NHL Central Scouting. “He's played with injuries and has a lot of internal toughness. He's got a great set of hands and is a team guy. I think the higher level he goes, the more he stands out, the more he puts people on the edge of their seats because he can score and finish.”
Girgensons sports a large championship ring on his right hand, earned when Dubuque won the Clark Cup in 2010-11. He’ll have to take it off when he fights for a spot on the Sabres and the good graces of their fans.
“I’m a skilled power forward, that’s for sure,” Girgensons said. “I like to hit. I like to score. That’s my game.”