Girgensons, a native of Latvia who arrived in the United States in 2009, spent the past two seasons playing for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League -- serving as captain last season at age 17. In 100 regular-season USHL games, Girgensons scored 45 goals and added 59 assists for 104 points, along with 115 penalty minutes. He had five goals and 12 points in 13 playoff games.
Girgensons led the Fighting Saints last season in goals (24), points (55), power-play goals (5) and game-winning goals (6) despite playing in only 49 of Dubuque's 60 games. Girgensons also served as an alternate captain for Team Latvia at the 2012 World Junior Championship, where he scored two goals in six games.
Because he has not played in the Canadian Hockey League, he would be eligible to play for Rochester, the Sabres' AHL affiliate, at age 18.
"Throughout the recruiting process, Zemgus has been very loyal to UVM, turning down offers to play major junior hockey as well as Russia's premier professional league, the KHL, in order to maintain his goal of playing for the Catamounts," Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said in a statement. "We have stated often that if we are going to lose Zemgus, we hope it's to the NHL team that selects him in the draft. Buffalo feels confident that Zemgus can play for them this year as well as with the Rochester Americans of the AHL."
Girgensons had said he would play at Vermont, but he decided to turn pro after attending the Sabres' rookie development camp this week.
"I would like to thank Coach Sneddon and his staff for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime to play for UVM. This was a very difficult decision for me to say the least," Girgensons said in a statement issued by the school.
"I always felt that the NCAA was the best way for me to develop on and off the ice. After attending the Buffalo Sabres camp, and learning their plans for me, I feel I am ready to begin my professional career."