Zemgus Girgensons is sailing into unknown waters this weekend.
The Buffalo Sabres' 21-year-old center will head to Columbus to represent the team during All-Star Weekend. With the support of his home country of Latvia, Girgensons won the fan vote. He received over 1.5 million votes and will start in the All-Star Game on Sunday with five members of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Girgensons, the 14th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, is in his second NHL season. He has 13 goals and nine assists in 47 games and has matched his point production from last year in 23 fewer games.
He said that since he doesn’t know many established players in the League outside of those he’s played with and has never been a part of an event like this, he’s entering the weekend with an open mind.
“I’m just going to go there and go day by day,” he said. “I can’t really expect anything. I don’t know how it works or what’s going to be there, so I’m just looking forward to being there.”
Sabres coach Ted Nolan has also coached Girgensons on the international stage for Team Latvia. He’s seen Girgensons go up against the best players in the world night in and night out and hopes Girgensons can learn a lot from this experience.
“He can watch, see what [Sidney] Crosby does and how he prepares himself. I know it’s an All-Star Game and it’s a little bit different, but the preparation and all those little tricks, they’re all still the same,” Nolan said. “He gets to be around Jonathan Toews and all the greats in the game. I hope he’s just like a sponge and soaks up as much as he can.”
Girgensons will have his parents and girlfriend with him for the weekend, making the experience that much more special. As for how the fan voting craze played out in Latvia, it wasn’t something that came up in any of the conversations he’s had with his parents, who live there.
“I didn’t really ask too much about it. We never really talked too much about it,” he said. “I wasn’t the guy that liked to talk about it at all so they didn’t even bother me at all about it.”
The festivities in Columbus kick off Friday with the 2015 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft presented by DraftKings. Team captains Toews and Nick Foligno and will be charged with selecting their respective squads.
Will Sabres forward Marcus Foligno lobby to have his brother pick Girgensons?
“Maybe,” Girgensons said, laughing.
Saturday will feature the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition and the weekend caps off with the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday at Nationwide Arena.
Girgensons will just try to enjoy every minute of it.
“I think it’s more fun, not as much work,” he said. “It’s just a game where you try to have some fun and I bet it’s going to be an awesome time there.”
Sabres.com will be in Columbus for the weekend’s events, so stay tuned for updates and behind-the-scenes coverage.