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Sabers Zemgus Girgensons’ 10 Years in Buffalo – Hockey Writers – Buffalo Sabers

Last week highlighted the start of 2024 NHL Free Agency with big names like Steven Stamkos, Jake Guentzel, and Jonathan Marchessault all finding new homes. Among the many moves made last week, forward Zemgus Girgensons signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the next three seasons, moving on from the Buffalo Sabres. This may seem like a contending team filling its bottom six, but the loss is significant for Sabers fans. Time to review 10 years of the Latvian locomotive in blue, white, and gold.

2012 NHL Entry Draft and Minor League Hockey

While the first selection of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft did not go as well as the drafting teams had hoped, the rest of the draft featured outstanding first-rounders such as Phillip Forsberg, defenseman Morgan Reilly, and goaltender Andrey Vasilevskiy, and Girgensons. 14th on the Sabers – ranked ninth in games played in the 2012 draft class.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound, lefty played with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League (USHL) before being drafted, posting 104 points in 100 games over two seasons. In 2010-11, the Fighting Saints won the Clark Cup thanks to his contributions and current Columbus Blue Jackets forward Johnny Gaudreau.

Girgensons Work

After being drafted, Big Z signed his rookie contract and played for Buffalo’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Rochester Americans. After 61 games with the Americans and a game-tying record in the Calder Cup Playoffs, he was ready to make the jump to the NHL.

Related: Top 10 Latvians in NHL history

Surprisingly, Girgensons two most productive seasons came in his first two years in the league, scoring 22 points in his rookie year (2013-14) and 30 points the following season (2014-15). The Riga, Latvia native’s best year didn’t end there; he was also the leading vote getter in the 2015 NHL All-Star Game – 79% of his votes came from his home country of Latvia. He is the highest-drafted Latvian in NHL history and is considered one of the best Latvian-born hockey players.

Zemgus Girgensons, Buffalo Sabers (Amy Irvin / Hockey Writers)

Over the next eight seasons in Buffalo, he averaged 14-19 points per season. While he may not have lived up to his first-round pick level, he was a consistent bottom-six hitter and a reliable killer. Girgensons will be remembered for his loyalty to the Sabers franchise where other superstars such as Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart, and Jack Eichel did not stay long in Buffalo. He has worn the “A” on his jersey for the past three seasons and was a much-needed veteran on a very young team, mentoring younger skaters.

In 688 games with the Sabers, Girgensons scored 89 goals and 188 points. Buffalo has never made the playoffs during the team’s 10-year run – the second-longest drought (13 years) among the four American sports leagues.

Girgensons’ All-Time Ranks as a Saber

At 688 games in Buffalo, Girgensons ranks ninth all-time in games played by the franchise and the longest-tenured Sabre. Other notable names who have recently had long relationships with the organization include forward Jason Pominville (nine seasons), recent Stanley Cup champion Kyle Okiposo (eight seasons), and defenseman Ramus Ristolainen (eight seasons). Now, Tage Thompson and Rasmus Dahlin are the longest tenured Sabers at six seasons.

Tampa Bay Outlook

Girgensons joins an aging core of Lightning forwards Guentzel, Nikita Kucherov, and defenseman Victor Hedman. While this team may lack scoring depth after losing long-time captain Stamkos, they have plenty of experienced offensive veterans. If Tampa Bay makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, look to give any team a run for their money in the first round.

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