Sabres report cards: Zemgus Girgensons

The Latvian Legend’s season in review.

The season is over, and we’re going to rate every player who played more than 20 games this season on their performance the same way we were all graded back in the day - on a report card scale of A to F. We’re taking a look at everyone from Bailey to Rodrigues in our 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres Report Cards.

Age: 23

Contract: RFA (cap hit of $1.15 million last year)

Introduction: Zemgus Girgensons is something of a polarizing player among Sabres fans, with some thinking that the offensive skill he showed in 2014-15 shows he deserves a chance in a top six role, while others think that year was a fluke and that Girgensons is much better served playing in the bottom six.

This season saw the Latvian Locomotive mostly stuck in that second role, with occasional trips to the top lines, and he produced fairly similar numbers to his previous season. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Key Stat: This stat isn’t from this year, but I’m gonna use it anyway, because I think it helps inform the debate over how Girgensons should be used. In 2014-15, his All-Star season, Zemgus posted a shooting percentage of 13.0%. In each of his other three seasons, he’s posted a shooting percentage of 7.0%, 6.4%, and 6.3%. Time to play a round of, “Which one of these is not like the other?”

A shooting percentage of 13.0 this season would have put Girgensons in the top 100 in the NHL, ahead of players like Jamie Benn, Rick Nash, Connor McDavid, and pretty far ahead of Jack Eichel. While I think you could get a bit more out of him, to me, that 2014-15 season is the outlier, and Girgensons’ other three seasons show you what type of production you’re typically going to get from him.

Thumbs Up: In Girgensons, the Sabres have a hardworking, grinding center who can kill penalties, lay a big hit on someone, and is decent in the faceoff circle. You know what you’re going to get with him night in and night out, and on a team where inconsistency often reigned supreme, that’s not a bad thing.

Girgensons also went 1-for-1 in the shootout, making him Buffalo’s de-facto shootout specialist this season. Oh, and there’s this. Always this:

Thumbs Down: While his consistency is great, to me, Girgensons doesn’t offer a whole lot beyond your average bottom-six player. The quick hands and sweet dekes that helped fuel his 2014-15 season seem to have vanished, and aside from his gritty play, Zemgus doesn’t have any one thing he does better than anything else. If the Sabres can re-sign him on the cheap, I think he makes a nice fourth line player, but I’m not sure the upside of one day blossoming into a top six guy is there anymore.

Memorable Moment: In a March contest against the Anaheim Ducks, Girgensons won the game in the tenth round with this smooth move to give the Sabres a rare shootout victory.

Voting: Using the good old grade school system of A, B, C, D, F, with a grade of A representing a great season, a grade of C being the performance you expected, and F a very poor season, rate Zemgus Girgensons on his performance this year.

Grade Zemgus Girgensons on his 2016-17 season.