Could the Lightning be interested too?

A report out of Russia from Sovsport.ru has surfaced that mentions that the Toronto Maple Leaf’s Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello have met with Igor Ozhiganov.

Ozhiganov is a right-handed defenseman playing with CSKA Moscow of the KHL. His name may also sound familiar to you. That would be because he is a friend of Nikita Kucherov. In a interview in Russian over the summer, Kucherov mentioned Nikita Gusev as well as Ozhiganov and how he had been advocating for the Tampa Bay Lightning to get them to Tampa.

Interviewer: Could you persuade Steve Yzerman to take Nikita Gusev to Tampa?

Kucherov: I always say this to the Lightning; not only about Gusev, but about Igor Ozhiganov too. 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.

Gusev is now out of the organization as he was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights as a part of an expansion draft deal. Ozhiganov though went undrafted and has remained in Russia for his professional career.

Here’s the translated part of the Sovsport.ru article. If you use any part of this translation, please credit Sovsport.ru for the original article and Natalia (@extragalactic) of RawCharge.com for the translation.

At first I was surprised when I found out that Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello and head coach Mike Babcock recently visited Moscow only to have a dinner with CSKA defenseman Igor Ozhiganov.

But then I remembered that in 2016, the great coach Babcock went to Moscow only for a dinner with Nikita Zaitsev. Shortly afterwards, the defenseman left CSKA for Toronto, where he had a good debut season (36 points) and signed a 7-year contract with an AAV of $4.5 million. And who will say Nikita hasn’t earned the money? He managed to fit in with the team as if he had been playing there for five years. The club’s attitude and the way they had been coaxing him the whole year played a big role there.

Now the Leafs have a great interest in Ozhiganov, a large defenseman with an excellent shot. What does Igor have in Russia? There was the blockbuster game with SKA. And you know what, Ozhiganov was off the lineup and watched the game from the stands. Because CSKA has six good lines, and all the players simply don’t fit on the roster.

Ozhiganov’s contract expires next year. He’s 24. Will he leave for the NHL? To sit in the stands in Saint Petersburg or to play on Babcock’s team? If I were Igor, I would seriously think about this!

Would Ozhiganov be a fit in Tampa?

With Andrej Sustr a year away and Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi two years away from free agency, there would be room on the right side of Tampa Bay Lightning’s depth chart sooner rather that later. The team has Jake Dotchin, but his ultimate ceiling and ability to play in the top four long term is still in question. 2017 first round draft pick Cal Foote is also at least two to three years away from making the NHL.

Ozhiganov’s contract with CSKA expires at the end of this season. The Lightning could push Dotchin or Girardi out of the way next season to accomodate Ozhiganov in the line-up and set him up to be a nice cog over the next three to four seasons on the blue line.

If Ozhiganov signs, he would be subject to the Entry Level System as a European player that is not yet 28. He would have to sign a one-year, two-way contract. The maximum NHL salary would be $925,000, but the team can also offer up to $850,000 in Schedule A performance bonuses. The team can also kick in up to $2 million in Schedule B bonuses, however, those are much harder to obtain. Schedule B bonuses are for placement in major award balloting and being in top 10 among the player’s position group for stats like goals, assists, points, points per game, and ice time.

Who is Ozhiganov?

Ozhiganov started in the CSKA system in the MHL (Russian junior hockey). In the MHL, he played with future NHLers Kucherov, Alexei Marchenko, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Nikita Zadorov. Additionally, he was on the 2011-12 U20 World Junior Championship roster for Team Russia.

In 2012-13, Ozhiganov moved into the KHL full time after having played nine games split between the previous two seasons with CSKA. CSKA traded him to Amur Khabarovsk prior to the season for a second round draft pick. In 49 games with Amur, he scored 15 points. Towards the end of the season, Amur traded Ozhiganov back to CSKA for another defenseman. He finished the year with an assist in four games for CSKA. He added a goal in six playoff games.

CSKA again traded Ozhiganov in the offseason to Sibir Novosibirsk. He played with Sibir for two seasons scoring six points in 52 games his first season and 21 points in 59 games his second season. He contributed eight points in 26 playoff games split over the two seasons for Sibir as well.

Prior to the 2015-16 season, Sibir traded Ozhiganov back to CSKA. Over the past two seasons, Ozhiganov has played some excellent hockey scoring 38 points over 100 games. He’s added six more points in 20 playoff games for CSKA. He was named a KHL All-Star for the 2016-17 season.

The interesting part about Ozhiganov’s game is that early on in his career, he was a fighter and a physical defenseman. In his first two MHL seasons, he combined for 296 penalty minutes in only 111 games for an average of 2.66 PIMs per game. Since then, across the MHL and KHL, he has combined for 277 PIMs in 306 games for an average of 0.91 PIMs per game.

Perhaps the physical nature of his early career overshadowed the talent that he had. Ozhiganov was passed over in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, his first year eligible. He picked up his scoring and toned down his physical game the next season, but it wasn’t enough to get noticed by scouts and he went undrafted by the NHL.

Being undrafted, that means that he is free to sign with any team in the NHL when his KHL contract is up. So could the Lightning be a fit?

The physical part of his game hasn’t completely gone away. The past couple of seasons, Steve Yzerman has shown that he likes defensemen that will play a little more physically, but most importantly that take care of their own defensive zone first. Ozhiganov can do that, though his consistency and decision making are questions that can’t be fully answered without more scouting.


Article first appeared on www.draysbay.com