Why Igor Ozhiganov would be a good add to the Leafs organization

[See the 2018 update to this piece by clicking here]

Just a few days after the Toronto Maple Leafs lost defenceman Alexey Marchenko to CKSA Moscow, it appears that there’s a non-zero chance of them taking one right back from the KHL juggernaut in a few months. This morning, this little nugget of information eked out of the Russian media about 24-year-old Igor Ozhiganov:

The original report comes from Pavel Lysenkov of SovSport (translated for your viewing pleasure on Raw Charge), and brings up Nikita Zaitsev as a comparable. Zaitsev was a long-term target for the Maple Leafs, who spent over a year making sure that they got their player, and it appears that if Ozhiganov is going to come here, we’ll be seeing a repeat of history.

Ozhiganov, who hails from Krasnogorsk (basically the Brampton of Moscow), has one year remaining on his contract with CSKA. The team, much like their big-budget rivals in St. Petersburg, is overflowing with KHL-calibre roster players and isn’t scared to rotate their non-superstars in and out at their own leisure, which meant that he did not participate in the season opener on Monday.

Box Score Per Hour
Year Age GP G A PTS PPG SOG Hits Blk G A PTS SOG Hits Blk
2016/17 24 50 8 14 22 6 117 40 30 0.55 0.96 1.51 8.01 2.74 2.05
2015/16 23 50 5 11 16 3 108 56 28 0.36 0.8 1.17 7.88 4.09 2.04
2014/15 22 59 8 13 21 2 120 72 31 0.43 0.69 1.12 6.4 3.84 1.65
2013/14 21 52 1 5 6 0 55 0.08 0.39 0.47 4.27 0 0
2012/13 20 53 3 13 16 3 55 0.17 0.74 0.92 3.15 0 0
2011/12 19 7 2 0 2 2 5 1.58 0 1.58 3.96 0 0
2010/11 18 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

That’s not to say that Ozhiganov isn’t a good defenceman. In fact, he’s steadily become one of the most efficient rearguards in the league over the past few years. His point production, goal scoring, and shot rate were all well above the league average from the beginning of last year until the end, and coincidentally, he was able to fill in some of the void left by Zaitsev’s departure to Toronto, without logging the same type of monster minutes.

Points / 60 Shots on Goal / 60
Player Age 24 Age 23 Age 22 Age 24 Age 23 Age 22
Igor Ozhiganov 1.51 1.17 1.12 8.01 7.88 6.4
Viktor Antipin 1.11 0.79 1.12 3.7 3.8 3.94
Nikita Zaitsev 1.61 1.63 0.95 6.39 5.36 5.7

If we’re running with the thought that offence is the hardest part of the game to bring over from Europe to the NHL, Ozhiganov compares decently well to Zaitsev in his early prime years. Zaitsev took his leap a little bit sooner, but there’s a promising upward trend there. I’ve also included Viktor Antipin, as he appears to be 2017/18’s ex-KHL defenceman to watch.

Antipin signed with the Sabres this spring, and many are hoping for him to transition from playing top-pairing minutes with Metallurg Magnitogorsk to playing full-time minutes with Buffalo. Interestingly, trails well behind Zaitsev and Ozhiganov in goal production, point production, shot generation, hit frequency, shot blocking frequency… basically everything the KHL tracks outside of ice time. So if we’re labelling him as an NHLer and Zaitsev as a first or second pairing player, there’s definitely found money in grabbing the one in the upper-middle of the two.

Besides the numbers, there’s plenty to like about Ozhiganov. He’s not a tower, but still has size to him at 6’2, 207. He’s quite mobile, he’s got a capable point shot (though, like Zaitsev, he uses it most on a powerplay that he likely wouldn’t play on in Toronto), he’s and he’s not scared to use his body to get in the way of his opponents or the puck. He’s played for three KHL teams on his way up the ranks in various roles, so he’s not likely to be picky for specific ice time once he comes over. He’s earned the eye of the national team, receiving European Hockey Tour call-ups in his last three seasons, and was named a KHL All-Star last year (where he won the Hardest Shot competition).

Oh, and for those who like having handedness balance, he shoots right. This would theoretically give the Leafs more flexibility in an area where they already have more depth than most teams, and makes Ozhiganov a premium asset down the line if he succeeds. If they’re very confident in Ozhiganov’s abilities, you could see him replace Connor Carrick in 2018/19; Carrick is an RFA next summer and the team could use him as a major piece in a package rather than hand him a raise.

That’s all hypothetically speaking, though. Toronto still needs to sign Ozhiganov, which they can’t do until May 1st, 2018. If the Zaitsev situation was of any indication, though, they’ll get their guy if they really want him.

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