Zemgus Girgensons made it pretty clear at the NHL Draft in Pittsburgh that he expected to attend the University of Vermont this fall after a strong career with Dubuque of the United States Hockey League. Then he came to Sabres development camp and was one of the standout players. The 18-year-old had what he called the toughest decision of his life to make but how tough could it have been.
Girgensons called UVM coach Kevin Sneddon late Thursday night and the Sabres officially announced today that the Latvian center taken 14th overall has signed a three-year, entry-level contract (terms undisclosed).
"It was laying on my mind heavy because I was close to Vermont and it was a really tough decision for a kid to make," Girgensons said of his choice today in First Niagara Center. "No one was pushing me anywhere. I was the only one who made this decision. I gave them a call and he understood everything. We're so close that he didn't have problems with me going there. He knew this might happen and he was prepared."
"We're delighted to have him here, delighted he joined us to play pro," said GM Darcy Regier. "We think that he's a prototype NHL player, Buffalo Sabre player and will be able to make that transition from the USHL to professional hockey."
Regier said he had seen Girgensons mostly on video but was impressed with the way he compared to returning players in camp such as Cody Hodgson, Luke Adam and Marcus Foligno.
"We had a good idea of what his game is going to be but I think you get a different sense of the level," Regier said. "And we're confident he'll do well at the pro level."
Girgensons is likely ticketed for Rochester to start the season unless he can make a huge impression during training camp (presuming there is one). Can he be in the NHL this year?
"It probably just depends on me," he said. "Just how good I develop in the next two months, how much weight I put on, how much mentally stronger I get."
Click below to hear the comments of Regier and Girgensons from today's press conference.
Darcy Regier/Zemgus Girgensons