When the Buffalo Sabres selected Zemgus Girgensons 14th overall, the 18-year-old forward became the highest drafted Latvian player ever.
The previous high was set by defenceman Sandis Ozolinsh, the 30th overall choice of the expansion San Jose Sharks in 1991 and the most successful Latvian of all time.Ozolinsh went on to score 564 points in 15 seasons and participated in 7 NHL All-Star games.In 1995, he won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, and in 1997, he was a First All-Star team selection.That’s quite a resume, but not one typical for players from the Baltic country.
Since 1975, there have been 28 Latvian players drafted into the league, not including Girgensons.Eleven of them did not play one game in the NHL (although 2010 draftee Kristians Pelss could eventually suit up for the Edmonton Oilers).
Of the remaining 17, only five of them have played more than 82 games in their career, the equivalent of one full season.Not a good ratio for longevity in the NHL.
Born in Riga, Latvia, Girgensons was ranked 21st in the final ISS rankings of eligible players for the draft, while NHL Central Scouting had him at #18, six spot lowers than their midterm evaluation.
The scouts at HockeyProspect.com, however, see something more in Girgensons that could lead to prosperous career in the NHL.They had him ranked #5.
“He is one of my favourite players in the entire 2012 draft,” said Mark Edwards, founder and director of scouting for hockeyprospect.com.“Any time I watched him he was easily the best player on the ice.I also like him off ice.I spoke to hime a few times and this kid understands what it takes to play at a high level.”
The 6-foot-2, 198 pound centre spent the past two seasons playing with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League (USHL).In 2010-11, Girgensons was named a league All-Star, and then later that season, he helped the Saints capture the Clark Cup, the USHL’s championship trophy.
“Just watch what this kid will do offensively when he starts playing with NHL players.Not to knock his teammates, but they truly held him back,” added Edwards.
This past season, Girgensons led his team in scoring with 55 points, including 24 goals.He is committed to playing at the University of Vermont next season.