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Top draft prospect Girgensons out with broken jaw

by Mike G. Morreale

The Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League on Thursday announced that forward Zemgus Girgensons, projected by many to be a first-round pick at the 2012 NHL Draft, is expected to miss the remainder of the Clark Cup playoffs after suffering a fractured jaw.

The 6-foot-2, 198-pound center, who was injured in Game 2 of the team's first-round playoff game against the U.S. Under-17 National Team Development Program on Tuesday, becomes just another statistic in what has been an injury-plagued season for top draft-eligible players.

Girgensons, who had two goals and three points in two playoff games for the defending Clark Cup champions, suffered the injury on his first shift of the game while attempting a hit on USNTDP forward John Hayden.

After being hurt, Girgensons, the Saints' captain, continued to play until the pain became unbearable. Dubuque earned a 7-3 victory, sweeping the best-of-three series against the USNTDP. The club now advances to the USHL's Eastern Conference semifinals and will meet the Indiana Ice in a best-of-five series slated to begin Friday.

Zemgus Girgensons will miss the remainder of the Clark Cup playoffs after suffering a fractured jaw.

For the season, Girgensons had 24 goals, 55 points and a plus-17 rating in 49 regular-season games. He also had five goals and 14 points on the power-play and six game-winning goals. He had two goals in six games for the Latvia at the 2012 World Junior Championship in January.

Girgensons, a native of Riga, Latvia, is No. 18 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft.

"He's a player who skates just as well with or without the puck and pushes the play and challenges you on the offensive rush," NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "A defenseman will play big gaps on him because they know he can blow by you or steamroll you … he's going to be a very dominant player in the USHL."

Central Scouting's Jack Barzee said comparing Girgensons to Vancouver's Ryan 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 is unselfish.

"I think the higher level he goes, the more he stands out … the more he'll put people on the edge of their seats because he can score and finish."

Girgensons is committed to the University of Vermont for next season; his Canadian Hockey League rights are owned by the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.

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

"I think no doubt going to Vermont is a better fit," he said. "Going from Dubuque to Kelowna is a lateral move. 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

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