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It’s Now or Never for Girgensons

NHL: Preseason-Carolina Hurricanes at Buffalo Sabres Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Flashing back to the 2012 NHL Entry Level Draft, when the Buffalo Sabres selected forward Zemgus Girgensons with the 14th overall pick. At the time, dreams lined Girgensons up with fellow first-round pick Mikhail Grigorenko, as both would lead Buffalo to sure glory following more than a few lean years around the rink.

What has come from that first-round selection of Girgensons is anything but glory for both the player and the franchise.

Girgensons had a quick introduction to the league, becoming a full-time player just a year after being drafted. In 2013-14, Girgensons’ first full NHL season, he showed a lot of poise and promise with 22 points (8 goals, 14 assists) in 70 games.

The next season would provide possibly the biggest look into what kind of potential offensive talent Girgensons possesses. Despite playing in a system that some might consider a system with no evident structure or “shinny hockey” at the highest level, Girgensons enjoyed the best year of his young NHL career.

With 15 goals in 61 games, many wondered, with more than just cautious optimism, if the sky was indeed the limit for this young talent.

Unfortunately for both Girgensons and the Sabres, that season was very much an outlier and has since proven to be a flash in the pan. In 146 games since completing his 15-goal season, Girgensons has tallied a total of 14 goals and 20 assists for a very lean 34 points.

This past offseason, reaching restricted free agent status, Girgensons signed a two-year deal. What this agreement represents to both the player and the organization is much bigger.

At this point of his professional career, despite having multiple coaching and system changes, the pressure is on this season for Girgensons to prove his worth.

“You can’t come in thinking you have a spot,” Girgensons told the Buffalo News days ago. “You have to prove it in practice, off the ice, so I think it’s good for everyone."

At the young age of 23, Girgensons has 277 NHL games under his belt. There is no doubt he belongs in the league but there are many doubts about where his talents best fit.

We have spent the past few years growing ever more frustrated with his play, due to the lack of consistency. Much like many other Sabres fans have gotten used to watching recently, Girgensons will find himself having a great game or two, followed by a David Blaine-esque disappearing act for the next five or six games.

Hard to fault the player when you consider the surroundings but we can fire up the old cliché machine and toss out a “cream rises to the top” to scratch that itch.

Girgensons started his career as a center and has transitioned across lines to now be listed as a left winger heading into this season’s training camp.

As we saw throughout the start of training camp, Girgensons had been given a great opportunity out of the gates, flanking the Sabres all-but-confirmed top line of Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo.

Quite the change of pace for Girgensons, after spending most of the last season between the third and forth lines. Good news for Sabres fans though, the trio’s first game together this preseason featured a bevy of skilled skating and passing, as they looked like a well-oiled machine.

Even better news? His linemates are taking note.

“It’s like he’s confident or something,” Ryan O’Reilly told the Buffalo News. “It’s just his excitement. Playing on a line right now with him, it’s awesome. Every play you know you’re getting 110 percent. He competes on everything.”

For Girgensons, giving that aforementioned 110 percent these few weeks of training camp may provide the most-effective shot at proving his overall worth to the organization in what could be one of his final shots to find a role in Buffalo.