Sabres’ Girgensons learns to wing it at new positions - The Buffalo News

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Sabres’ Girgensons learns to wing it at new positions

He started as a center. Then the Buffalo Sabres organization wanted to make Zemgus Girgensons a winger.

Then Ted Nolan took over as interim coach and wanted him back at center, playing three games at the position.

But wait! Now he’s back at the wing.

Head swiveling isn’t just a skill for defenders. It’s necessary when looking at Girgensons’ spot in the lineup.

The 19-year-old played on the left side of the second line with Cody Hodgson at center and Tyler Ennis at right wing for the Sabres in their 4-1 loss at Philadelphia on Thursday night.

The Sabres had the day off on Friday and will return to practice today before Sunday’s home game with the Detroit Red Wings.

When Nolan was hired, the only player on the roster he had worked with was Girgensons, who he had coached for the Latvian national team at the World Championships last spring. At the time, Nolan said he wanted to move Girgensons back to his natural position at center.

After three games and days of discussions, Nolan revamped his opinion.

“We’re looking at is this kid going to be a center iceman for us or is he going to be a winger?” Nolan said on Wednesday when he announced the move after practice. “The consensus right now seems to be leaning toward the wing position. So if we’re going to ask him to be a winger, we better play him in that position.

“I think he’s just one of those players, he’s going to look as good to me at the wing as he does at center ice. So we have to figure out how we’re going to best utilize his skills and his skill set.

“A nice powerful winger like him, he’s only 19 years old. When he turns 22, 23, he’s going to be a man in that position. So he can be a very powerful winger for us.”

Where will Girgensons find himself today? Probably on the wing. But, hey, you never know. And if there’s any confusion on his part, Gigrensons isn’t saying anything. He’s just going with the flow.

“It’s just experience,” Girgensons said. “The coaching staff knows I can play the wing, center. I never say I can’t play a position. It’s just better for me. I can be an all-around player wherever the team needs me.

“A lot of players like center better but it really comes down to how many players a team has at center, how they do there and where the team needs me. … You just have to be happy you’re in the league and accept the role you have and whatever you can do.”

Certainly the Sabres would like to see more offensive production out of everyone.

Girgensons has one goal this year – against Detroit in the season opener on Oct. 2. He has just one point in the last seven games, an assist on Jamie McBain’s goal in Toronto.

Under Nolan, he has averaged just over 14 minutes of ice time in 21 shifts a game.

He was a slow starter for the Rochester Americans last year as one of only two 18-year olds playing in the AHL. He finished with six goals and 11 assists in 61 games but led the Amerks in the playoffs, scoring three goals with a plus-2 rating as Rochester was swept by Toronto in the series.

So for Girgensons, taking time to warm into a season isn’t all that new.

“I pretty much had the same season last year in Rochester,” he said. “The start was tough. You stay with it, keep working hard and the chances will come and you can get some goals.”


When the NHL blocked the Sabres’ move to send Mikhail Grigorenko to the Amerks for a conditioning stint, the 19-year-old forward asked the coaching staff multiple times to put him back in the lineup.

They relented in Philadelphia on Thursday and Grigorenko centered the line of Luke Adam and Drew Stafford. Grigorenko’s best period was in the first, including a backcheck on Jakub Voracek that snuffed out what would have been an excellent scoring chance.

“I was trying my best and skating a lot,” Grigorenko said. “Our line played really well defensively but we lost the game so we were upset about that. I just had to work as hard as I could. Skate and battle and try to make some offense. … They gave me a chance so hopefully they liked the game. We’re just going to go game by game and see.”


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