We’ve now all seen one preseason game of Igor Ozhiganov, so he is official fair game to be judged on the merit of that performance. Nearly all reviews of that game seem to be underwhelming with the exception of one die hard fan…
Mike Babcock impressed with Igor Ozhiganov tonight: “He can pass the puck, he can get it through, he sees (the ice), his head’s up, he’s big. Good looking player.”
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) September 19, 2018
Okay, it wasn’t just Babcock…
Mike Babcock said Igor Ozhiganov is “looking like a good player” after tonight’s performance. Morgan Rielly concurred: “I thought he was one of the better players for sure. He was moving the puck [well]. Very exciting moving forward knowing he can get comfortable that quickly.”
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) September 19, 2018
Nikita Zaitsev asked about Russian defenceman Igor Ozhiganov, whom Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello went overseas to woo last year. Said he’d help Ozhiganov adjust over here however he can if needed, that he’s a really good guy.
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) April 27, 2018
These seem like the early signs of Ozhiganov winning a roster spot on the Leafs. The fact that he was moved up from his pairing with Dermott to play with Rielly in the third is also interesting, although I think now is a good time remember that this was one preseason game.
The Story On Ozhiganov
Following the “success” of bringing Nikita Zaitsev over, the Leafs decided to continue the trend of looking overseas to improve their blueline. Last season it was Sweden’s turn with the recruitment of Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen, but at the same time, Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello spent sometime looking at Igor Ozhiganov as well. He wasn’t quite ready to come over, but it seemed that a handshake agreement was in place that Ozhiganov would be a Leaf following the 2017-18 season. Despite the departure of Lou Lamoriello, it appeared that Kyle Dubas stayed good to his predecessor’s word and brought in Igor.
Perhaps I’m wrong in assuming that Dubas wasn’t always a supporter of this move and acquiring an asset for nothing is generally a win, but Ozhiganov seems to be a bit more of a traditional defensive defenseman than many of us want to believe that Dubas would consider.
The thing about Ozhiganov is that prior to his 2017-18 season, most of us would have been on board with the idea of taking a chance on him, but the drop in his numbers last year is what has alarm bells going off.
At the end of the day, Ozhiganov is a 6’2, 207 lb solid 25 year old right shooting defender that checks a lot of boxes at the bottom part of the Leafs defensive depth chart.
Yep. Looking at offensive stats for a guy labelled as a defensive defenseman tells a significant story. I guess what is interesting that Ozhiganov was much more disciplined last season dropping his penalty minutes significantly. Previously Ozhiganov was good for a penalty every other game or so, which is not ideal.
So there’s a bit more detail. It appears that Ozhiganov is capable of being a heavy shot on the power play, and that’s worked out okay for him. He hasn’t been a huge minute eater in the KHL, but generally that doesn’t happen to the extent it does in North America anyway. The steady decline in hits is interesting, if you are interested in hits, and generally Ozhiganov comes across as a player you might as well take a look at, but the lack of excitement around him is equally understandable.
Best Case Scenario for Ozhiganov?
Well, with Mike Babcock already trying him with Morgan Rielly, and praising him publicly, it seems that Ozhiganov might be living his best case scenario already. What I’d describe as the best case scenario for Ozhiganov is that he deemed to have transitioned to North America quickly and earns a spot on the Leafs out of camp, and likely slides in next to Dermott as a staple of the third pairing. Given the uncertain future of Jake Gardiner, and the underwhelming past performance of Nikita Zaitsev, this pairing has a real chance to become a second unit if everything goes well. Or Mike Babcock could really like Ozhiganov with Rielly, and that would be a godsend for Igor as well.
Worst Case Scenario?
Well. As often happens with signing European Free Agents, you find out they weren’t drafted for a reason, and while they can hold their own in the present league, making the jump to the NHL is just a little too much to expect. I’d imagine that Ozhiganov will ride out the season in North America regardless, as there seems to be some understanding that development into a role with the Leafs might be required, but if that progress doesn’t happen, Ozhiganov is likely to return to the KHL in 2019.
Crazier things have happened. The fact that Mike Babcock likes this kid and wants to give him every chance to succeed means he could very well succeed. His powerful shot might be enough to calm Leafs fans concerned about his puck carrying ability, and maybe having Zaitsev around might benefit both of them. Might as well have some wishful thinking here, no sense in rooting against the guy.
What’s Likely to Happen?
Have I mentioned that Babcock likes this guy? That’s a big tell right there. Whether you agree with Babcock or not, there is little doubt that Mike Babcock likes to keep a physical stay at home presence in the lineup. You might have noticed that Roman Polak was a Leaf despite concerns raised by this site. It’s cruel to paint all defensively inclined players with the Roman Polak brush, but there’s also little doubt that Ozhiganov fills a need in Babcock’s mind and that makes him a good bet for being the 6/7 D on the Leafs this year. What this could mean for guys like Carrick, Holl, Marincin, and Borgman, remains to be seen, as it would be a lot easier if Ozhiganov was demoted, since he won’t require waivers.
What seems like a guarantee is that Ozhiganov will see games with the Leafs this season. Whether its immediate or not requires more guess work, but if something doesn’t go swimmingly with the initial roster, he’d be an easy call-up after the fact. In the meantime I’m going to work on my benefit of doubt for Babcock and Igor.
Other Bubble Boys: