The 411 on Igor Ozhiganov, Russian defenceman connected to Leafs

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If you’re a North American hockey fan, chances are you’re not tremendously aware of Igor Ozhiganov. He fist came on to the NHL radar when a report surfaced in August that Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and GM Lou Lamoriello had travelled to Russia at least in part to visit with him. Instantly, Ozhiganov became one of the more intriguing non-NHL names out there, despite never being drafted into the league.

Ozhiganov is still under contract with CSKA Moscow for another season, but indications are that Toronto will sign him when his contract expires and bring him over as soon as next season, similar to how they acquired Nikita Zaitsev.

“Toronto’s a team that’s had some success internationally with defencemen. Zaitsev has been very good on their blue line, they’ve tried with Borgman and Rosen this year and there is a belief they’re about to get another one for next season, his name is Igor Ozhiganov,” reported Elliotte Friedman on this past weekened’s Headlines segment. “He’s gonna be recruited by some NHL teams, but word out of Russia is that he is most likely going to Toronto next year.”

Here’s a look into Ozhiganov to give you an idea of what sort of player he is.

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HE CAN PLAY A HEAVY GAME

At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Ozhiganov brings size to the blue line and a bit of an edge.

As a teenager in Russia’s junior MHL (more or less Russia’s equivalent to Canada’s CHL), Ozhiganov had two seasons where he piled up the penalty minutes. In 2009-10 and 2010-11, he totalled 167 and 129 PIMs to finish third and eighth, respectively, in the league. This was probably a reason why he was never picked at the NHL Draft. He’s reined in that part of his game somewhat, finishing with 61 penalty minutes in 50 KHL games last season and has just 10 in 19 this season, so credit to him for evolving as a player.

Still, Ozhiganov is not one to shy away from the rough stuff. Truculence, anyone?

His size and strength will be immediately noticeable, but he comes with some offensive upside, too (don’t be scared off by his 22-point total last season). We’ll talk specifically about his shot a little later in this piece, but check out the hands on this goal.

HE’S FRIENDS WITH NIKITA KUCHEROV, WHO WANTED THE TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING TO GET HIM

In an interview with Russian outlet Sport-Express over the summer, the Lightning scorer was asked about another Russian player, 25-year-old forward Nikita Gusev. The reporter asked Kucherov if he had tried to persuade GM Steve Yzerman to acquire Gusev, who scored 71 points in 57 KHL games last season.

According to a Russian translator via SB Nation, Kucherov answered that he indeed has brought up Gusev to Yzerman. Not only that, Kucherov also talked about Ozhiganov unprompted, suggesting he had mentioned that name to Yzerman as well.

“I always say this to the Lightning; not only about Gusev, but about Igor Ozhiganov too,” Kucherov said according to the translation. “It’s not about our friendship. Both are great players, they could help Tampa to win a Stanley Cup. I wouldn’t have recommended them if they weren’t able to. By the way, I spoke to them about taking their chances in the NHL. It’s an opportunity to play against the best players in the world. We have known each other since childhood, it would be great to win the Stanley Cup together.

HE COMES WITH A BIG SHOT

As Chris Johnston mentioned in his tweet above, scouts will note Ozhiganov’s shot from the point. The eight goals he scored in the KHL last season won’t jump off the page at you, but it was enough to finish tied for 13th in goals among defencemen.

Ozhiganov showed off his cannon at the KHL All-Star Game last season, winning the hardest shot competition. He’s not quite on Shea Weber’s level, but his blast was clocked at 159.47 kilometres per hour — or 99 miles per hour. Had he participated in the NHL’s hardest shot last season, Ozhiganov would only have been beaten by Weber and Patrik Laine.

Ozhiganov is similar to Zaitsev in that he’s a mid-20s undrafted Russian defenceman who is getting NHL attention a year before his KHL contract expires. The two even played together with CSKA Moscow two years ago, Zaitsev’s last before joining the Maple Leafs. Currently 25 years old, should Ozhiganov come to the NHL next season, he’d be a year older than Zaitsev was when he signed with Toronto.