20. LC Zemgus Girgensons – Dubuque (USHL)
DOB: Jan. 5/94 | Shoots: L | Height: 6.02 | Weight: 200lbs TSR Midterm Rank: 9
Zemgus Girgensons may not possess the high end offensive potential worthy of a pick in the top half of the first round, but he has extremely high value in this draft in that he appears to be a relatively safe pick. While he does own the offensive skills that allowed him to produce at roughly a point per game pace in the USHL the past two seasons, his defensive skills and awareness set him apart from most players in this draft and are skills that will resonate the most with NHL teams.
Girgensons uses his 6-foot-2 200 pound frame to play a physical game and deliver effective checks intended to separate the puck carrier from the puck. He’s adept at keeping one shoulder on the puck carrier and one on the player he is responsible for in a further display of his defensive technique. Girgensons not only is a fierce backchecker but he picks up the right guy and communicates to his teammates to ensure they pick up their man. When his team is not in possession, regardless of the zone, he keeps his stick on the ice in the passing lanes at all times. This defensive discipline and IQ make it difficult to envision a scenario that Girgensons won’t at least contribute as a 3rd line defensive center matched against the other team’s top line.
None of this is to suggest that Girgensons does not have offensive upside because there’s no doubting that he has proven to be more than capable in the attacking zone. Girgensons uses a powerful stride to gain separation when he has the puck but also has quick feet that enable him to stop and start quickly and change directions in tight quarters. He’s able to buy time and space and rely upon his elite hockey sense to help him read the play and identify the best option. Girgensons uses his quick hands to keep puck possession and make a variety of passes to put the puck on the stick of his teammates. Girgensons also knows finds open ice to receive the puck and unleash a heavy shot if he has a scoring opportunity. Enhancing these skills will put Girgensons in a position to contribute as a 2nd line center and a perfect complement to a goal scoring winger.
Girgensons is currently slated to attend the University of Vermont, with his CHL rights being held by the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets. The Rockets made a public pitch to land Girgensons this past season, but we’ll see if his NHL draft selection plays any role in where he ends up for 2012-13, as it’s very possible an NHL team may prefer to see their 1st round pick head north of the border.
Pros: Hockey sense, defensive awareness and technique
Cons: Risk that offensive upside won’t project to NHL level
Skillset Comparison: Ryan Kesler