Why Zemgus Girgensons Will Be a Better Pro Than Mikhail Grigorenko

Because they are both big-bodied centers taken in the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres, the careers of Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko will forever be linked. With that being said, even though they have two different playing styles, the two pivots will always be compared to one another. While both are projected to be stalwarts in the Sabres lineup for many years to come, Girgensons will be a better pro for one simple reason — intangibles.

From Latvia with Edge

Zemgus Girgensons Dubuque Fighting Saints
Jim Naprstek / Dubuque Fighting Saints

When one watches the 19-year-old Latvian play, his tenacity and voracious style is almost immediately recognizable, and is a much welcomed sight in the organization as the Sabres lack of physicality and toughness has been dually noted. Girgensons’ size, style of play and attitude make him and ideal two-way centerman and a potential future Selke winner.

Imagine putting him in the middle of Patrick Kaleta and Steve Ott. This would be a formidable checking line, as abrasive as sandpaper, that could be matched up against the opposition’s top line. Not to mention, the rest of the team would feed off of the energy created by these guys as they skated around the ice like wild banshees pulverizing their opponents. The KOG line would be sure to keep the rest of the Blue and Gold machine running on all cylinders.

The 6’2″ forward has possessed his innate qualities throughout his career. During his time in the USHL with the Dubuque Fighting Saints, his head coach spoke very highly of him. “At the beginning of the [2010-2011 season], we had all our players write down their two best attributes,” said former Fighting Saints head coach Jim Montgomery. “Zemgus wrote ‘puck protection’ and ‘I will never give up.’ And I couldn’t agree more. I describe him as a relentless player. His intensity, his never-say-die attitude; you would think he comes from Moose Jaw, [Saskatchewan].”  Montgomery goes as far to compare Girgensons will to that of Jonathan Toews and Mark Messier. The Sabres could certainly use leadership of that caliber on the roster.

Skill Beats Out Talent

Make no mistake, Grigorenko is a very talented hockey player, more so than Girgensons. However, Girgensons, because of his never quit attitude, is far more skilled than Grigorenko likely ever will be. Don’t understand the difference? Will Smith sums it up perfectly (yes, I am referring to the alien-fighting, Miami singing mega star). “The separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, who want to do things. Talent you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.”

Mikhail Grigorenko hockey
(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

And, that is the biggest separation between the two Sabres 2012 first-round draft picks. Girgensons is willing to ‘die for the cause’; he’s got that something extra that gives him a level of drive that is uncanny. Grigorenko on the other hand, has yet to show that he has the determination to hit the next level. That’s not to say he cannot develop it at some point in his what is currently fledgling career. He’ll never be on the same level as Girgensons, though; that is simply something one is born with. It cannot be learned or developed. This is in no way a knock on the Russian center. He’ll likely have a very productive career, especially offensively; just don’t expect him to be a glue guy and a leader like Girgensons seems destined to be.

Sabres Development Camp

For Girgensons, the proof is in the pudding. One has to look no further than the Sabres development camp, which was held last week, to see that the Latvian is leaps and bounds ahead of his peers. He was easily one of the standout players at the three-day prospect event. He just had a different look to him compared to the other players. He was focused, driven (never taking a drill or a shift off), physical and was a leader on and off the ice. It was no surprise that his Blue team beat Grigorenko’s Gold team in the scrimmage held at the end of the camp. Girgensons played a sound two-way game, playing physical and making his teammates better as he assisted on two goals.

When he wasn’t leading by example or cracking jokes in the locker, keeping everyone lose, he was saying all the right things. Not only does he want to make the NHL this year, “I want to be a leader,” says Girgensons. That’s not something you hear out of a lot of mouths of 19-year-old prospects.