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Passion to play drives Girgensons to be the best

Thursday, 01.19.2012 / 12:57 PM / 2012 NHL Draft

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Passion to play drives Girgensons to be the best
The lethal combination of wanting to be the best and having the ability to perform that way on the ice has Zemgus Girgensons of the USHL a top prospect heading into the 2012 NHL Draft.
Zemgus Girgensons of the United States Hockey League's Dubuque Fighting Saints possesses a lethal combination of skill and will.

"He was the most competitive 17-year-old kid I've ever been around, and it didn't matter if you were in the weight room or on the ice," Dubuque head coach Jim Montgomery told NHL.com. "He wants to be a difference-maker and he wants to help his team in any shape or form that he can."

Girgensons, who turned 18 on Jan. 5, has certainly lived up to his billing as a powerful 6-foot-1 1/2, 198-pound center. He finished third on Dubuque with 49 points, including 21 goals, in 51 games last season en route to being selected to the midseason Western Conference All-Stars. He's produced 13 goals, 27 points and a plus-6 rating in 24 games this campaign, while racking up a team-high 91 shots on goal.

USHL Top Prospects game webcast

No need to worry if you're unable to get a ticket to the inaugural USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 24 at the L.C. Walker Arena in Muskegon, Mich.

That's because a free online broadcast of the contest will be made available live on FASTHockey, the USHL's exclusive online broadcast provider. The game is scheduled to begin 7:15 p.m. ET.

To view the USHL free game broadcast, fans must first register and create a free account on FASTHockey. Facebook users should 'Like' the USHL Facebook page and log in to their FASTHockey account using the "USHL on FASTHockey App" to view the game.

The USHL celebrates its 10th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2011-12. FASTHockey has delivered nearly 50,000 live games and over 120,000 hours of on-demand content since its launch.

-- Mike G. Morreale
"I'm a power forward for sure," Girgensons told NHL.com. "I'll make the hits and always finish them. I'll drive the net all the time to try and score."

Girgensons, who struck for 2 goals in six games for the Latvian National Junior Team at the 2012 World Junior Championship, had 3 goals and 8 points in 11 playoff games during Dubuque's Clark Cup championship run last season.

"The biggest thing for Zemgus is learning when it's time to take it hard to the net, which he likes to do a lot," Montgomery said. "He needs to buy time and space, especially when he's on the half wall on the power play."

According to NHL Central Scouting's midterm report, Girgensons could be the highest-rated forward among players in the USHL. He was the No. 12-rated skater among all North Americans eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh on June 22-23.

"Zemgus is someone who's going to push being a real high-end rank for us all year," Central Scouting's Dave Gregory told NHL.com.

"He's easily a 100 miles-per-hour guy and when he breaks seams on the power play, if it's there, it's fantastic," Montgomery said.

Scouts will be able to formulate their own opinion of Girgensons on Jan. 24 when the inaugural 2012 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game presented by CCM is held at the L.C. Walker Arena in Muskegon, Mich.

"The USHL is a great league and I love playing there," Girgensons said. "It's great hockey and Dubuque is a great organization. It's a good fit and Jim Montgomery is probably the best coach in the USHL ... everyone likes him and he's a coach who will help you individually and as a team. He's helped me a lot to get to this level, teaching me offensive- and defensive-zone draws."

While Girgensons admits his favorite Latvian to play in the NHL was goalie Arturs Irbe, he's paid special attention to Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler.

"He's kind of a player like me ... he plays with big passion, so he works hard all the time and loves the game," Girgensons said. "I like his passion for the game. I really like his game style and like to watch and learn from him."

Zemgus Girgensons had 3 goals and 8 points in 11 playoff games during Dubuque's Clark Cup championship run last season.
Central Scouting's Jack Barzee, who specializes in scouting players from the USHL, feels comparing Girgensons to Kesler isn't too far-fetched.

"He's developed himself physically and worked hard there in the last two years -- he was a shy kid when he came in as a 15-year-old," Barzee said. "With the speed, size and strength he possesses, he can go through you and hurt you. He's got a gifted set of hands and a hard wrist shot. He has a high-end work ethic, is a team player and unselfish."

His Canadian Hockey League rights are held by the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League, but Girgensons is committed to the University of Vermont for the fall of 2012.

"I really want that education and that's why I'm playing in the USHL, so that I don't lose my NCAA eligibility," Girgensons said. "When the draft comes, we'll see what happens, but my plan is to go to Vermont and work hard."

Montgomery, a collegiate standout at Maine in the early 1990s, feels Girgensons would better benefit from playing college hockey.

"I think no doubt going to Vermont is a better fit ... going from Dubuque to Kelowna is a lateral move," Montgomery said. "I think that going to Vermont and playing against older, bigger, stronger student-athletes, will prepare him better for the NHL."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
2012 NHL Draft