Buffalo Sabres Player Season Report Card: Zemgus Girgensons

The longest tenured Buffalo Sabre by far, this season marked Zemgus Girgensons’ eighth in a Buffalo uniform. He was a first-round selection by the Sabres in 2012, and has managed to carve out a bottom-six role with the team because of his defensive play, penalty killing and ability to chip in occasionally offensively. This season Girgensons was asked to provide something a little different, as he and Kyle Okposo were tasked with being the leaders for the team. Girgensons’ point production will never be his greatest asset, but his presence in the locker room and strong defensive capabilities were on full display from him this season. 

Expectations Remained the Same for Girgensons in the Preseason

Girgensons missed the entirety of the 2020-2021 season due to a hamstring injury, so the 2021-2022 season provided a runway for him to have a bounce back season. Girgensons has been a staple of the Sabres’ lineup going back multiple years, but in the past few seasons he has grown into a sturdy piece of their bottom six, and a core piece of their penalty killing units. The expectations for him don’t change much from year to year, with his point totals usually hovering in the 16-to-19 range, but his main contributions are blocked shots, strong defensive play, penalty killing, and the newest contribution this season — leadership. 

Zemgus Girgensons Buffalo Sabres
Zemgus Girgensons, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

During the preseason it was announced that Girgensons and Okposo would be serving as the Sabres’ alternate captains for the season. Don Granato choosing Girgensons was a smart decision, as his hard work and continuous effort on the ice provides a great example for other players to follow. He and Okposo were instrumental pieces of the Sabres’ late-season surge with their leadership in the locker room and lead-by-example approach on the ice. 

Sabres Needed the Leadership Provided by Girgensons

From the opening minutes of this NHL season, the line of Girgensons, Okposo and Cody Eakin stood out immediately. They outworked opponents for the puck, shut down teams defensively, and then were able to transition smoothly into offense. While they only combined for nine goals as a trio, they set the tone for the game on each shift with their hard work and desperation to control the puck. That leadership on the ice was contagious, and it moved the rest of the lineup to work hard and battle on every shift. While it may not have translated into wins right away, it had the team consistently playing hard and with purpose every single night.

Related: Buffalo Sabres Player Season Report Card: Rasmus Dahlin

Outside of that role for the Sabres, Girgensons continued to chip in moderately on offense. He scored 10 goals and added eight assists for 18 points in his 56 games this season. That goal total is third highest in his career after scoring 15 in 2015-2016 and 12 in 2019-2020, and his three power-play goals this season were the highest of his career. A lot of those goals came from around the net, where he showed his ability to be a disruptor by screening goalies and redirecting pucks. 

The turnaround we saw from the Sabres down the late stretch of the season was due in large part to the tone both Girgensons and Okposo set in the preseason. Girgensons is an important player for this team because of his versatility, and that was on full display this season as he delivered on the expectations placed on him.

Final Grades and Future Look

Because Girgensons finished on par with his expectations going into the season, and the bounceback nature of it post-injury, he gets a B for a final grade. The only real knock is the lack of offensive output, but for the role he is asked to play for this team he gets a slight pass.  

He is under contract for one more season at $2.2 million, and then will be an unrestricted free agent. Girgensons seems to enjoy Buffalo quite a bit, and he has shown he can be an effective and affordable player for the Sabres. The relationship has worked for this long, so it is easy to see them coming to terms on a contract extension to keep him with the team moving forward.

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