Unlike Zemgus Girgensons, the ordinary 17-year-old junior hockey player rarely sees himself in a leadership role.
Then again, very little about Girgensons happens to fit the mold of the typical 17-year-old junior hockey player.
From finishing third on USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints’ in points last season to holding true to his yearlong commitment to the University of Vermont, Girgensons may have the most unique story out of all 2012 draft eligible players.
The Latvian centre came over to the United States months before his 15th birthday to play for the Selects Summer Hockey program on the East Coast. Girgensons went on to play for the Green Mountain Glades of the EJHL, a team stationed less than 10 miles from the University of Vermont campus. The location ended up playing a major decision on the power forward’s decision to commit last March to the Catamounts’ program for the 2012-13 season.
“It’s a great college town and I really liked being there,” Girgensons said. “Vermont is really focused on hockey and the coaching staff there is great—I just couldn’t say ‘no’ to them,.
Girgensons, 12th overall in Future Considerations preliminary ranking for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, really began to turn heads last December at the World Junior Championships Division I tournament in Belarus. The then 16-year-old led Latvia, a team comprised of 16 19-year-old players, to the WJC Division I title and promotion to the 2012 World Junior Championship in Alberta. Girgensons left Belarus as the third leading scorer in the tournament, netting four goals and three assists.
Girgensons has continued to dazzle scouts on the big stage, including recently, at the NHL’s Research, Development and Orientation Camp in Toronto. While the camp is more about proposed rule changes than scouting, onlookers liked what they saw from Girgensons.
Future Considerations’ Ontario scout Sean Lafortune was among the scouts who left the two day camp impressed with Girgensons stating,
“He was strong with the puck on his stick and displayed an ability to generate things in the offensive zone,” Lafortune said. “He showed strong vision with the and always seemed to be on the attack offensively.”
Repeating last year’s success, in which the expansion Fighting Saints won the USHL championship, will be no easy task for the Dubuque team now lead by Girgensons. With top scorers and NHL Entry Draft fourth round picks John Gaudreau and Vinny Saponari both Boston College bound and Riley Barber headed for the USA NTDP, the ‘never say die’ Girgensons will see star attention from opposing teams on a nightly basis.
Girgensons talked to Future Considerations about his offseason, his reasoning behind not going to the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, and his captaincy for the upcoming season:
You were selected to be one of the 36 draft eligible players to participate in the NHL’s Research, Development and Orientation Camp. How did the camp go and what was it like spending the two days with players who are going to be going through the same draft process you are this season?
It was a lot of fun, but it was pretty tough too. It was great to [meet other draft eligible players] and play the game with some of the rule changes that they were looking at. [All of the players] were always together so that was pretty cool. I roomed with Sioux City’s Jordan Schmaltz and we talked a lot a lot about what is going to happen this year.
What made you want to come over to the North America and your development in 2008 rather than staying and play for SK Riga or even Dinamo Riga, your hometown’s KHL team?
I didn’t see that I was progressing and I felt it was time for a change. I decided that coming over here was best thing for me hockey wise and with the great education. That’s why I’m going the college route because you never know what’s going to happen later in your life and if my career doesn’t work out I’ll have a stable life after [hockey].
You represented Latvia this past December in the World Junior Championship at the Division I level in which you were by far the youngest player on the roster. What are your feelings going into this year’s World Junior Championship in which you’ll be playing a larger role on the team that will play against the best U20 competition come late December?
Yeah, I was the youngest on the team, but it really didn’t feel that way because I was playing in the USHL before the tournament. I just tried to do my best and get Latvia into the top division. There’s a lot of excitement with this year’s World Junior Championship, but also some nervousness as well. We are going to have a really young team, but I hope that when scouts see us they’ll get to know our Latvian team a little bit better.
You are going to be the captain of Dubuque this season which is a pretty large honor to someone who is who won’t turn 18 until midway through the season. What was your reaction to being named captain and what is leadership style like?
It’s a real honor for me to be the captain of the team this year and I think it’s every hockey player’s wish to be the captain of their team. I think my leadership kind of goes by the ‘actions speak louder than words’ [motto]. I talk a lot in locker room, but I’m not the kind of leader who talks all the time. I really try as hard as I can and have the guys see my work ethic.
Your CHL rights are owned by Kelowna, the Rockets’ top executive, Bruce Hamilton, recently told the Kelowna Daily Courier that he was confident you will be wearing a Rockets’ uniform sometime down the road, if not this season. Are you keeping your options open about the possibility of playing in British Columbia?
My plan this year is to play in the USHL and then go to Vermont. I never really change my mind and actually, I have not even talked to the Kelowna organization, only my advisor has. I don’t see myself playing there.
Aaron Vickers is a draft correspondant for Future Considerations and can be found on Twitter. For all the latest Future Considerations news and posts, follow FC’s Official Twitter Feed, on YouTube and on Facebook!