Ivan Zhigalov – 2022 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

Ivan Zhigalov

2021-22 Team: Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
Date of Birth: April 30, 2003
Place of Birth: Minsk, Belarus
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 161 lbs
Catches: Right
Position: Goaltender
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2022 second-year eligible

Rankings

Zhigalov was born in Minsk, Belarus, and began figure skating at age four. By age six, he transitioned from figure skating to goaltending, because he liked the look of the equipment. He later moved to Moscow to play hockey, playing for the Dynamo Moskva U16s.

He eventually played five games in the MHL, the highest junior league in Russia, and sported a 1.10 goals-against average (GAA) and a .941 save percentage (SV%). Even with the small sample size, he showed enough potential to earn the seventh-overall draft pick in the 2021 CHL Import Draft. The 19-year-old went undrafted in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft in his first year of eligibility and was invited to the Montreal Canadiens’ rookie camp, although he couldn’t attend due to visa and COVID-19 restriction issues.

Even though he went undrafted last year, with a 23-9-3 record and a 2.85 GAA this season, to go along with a .890 SV% in an offensive-leaning league, he will be drafted this time around, the only question is which team will choose him.

There’s a lot to like about his game. His biggest strengths are undoubtedly his quick feet and athleticism. Zhigalov has the ability to make cross-crease, show-stopping saves on a nightly basis. He routinely robs opponents with his quick glove hand, as he did in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game in March. The best goalies in the game can move explosively and fluidly, and he has that part of his game covered. He mainly plays a butterfly style, which allows him to use his quick feet and edgework to his advantage.

Related: THW’s 2022 NHL Draft Guide

His second biggest strength has to be his mentality. He works hard in practice, attends all optional skates, and looks up to Andrei Vasilevsky, Igor Shesterkin, and Carter Hart. He doesn’t just want to make it to the NHL, he wants to be the best goalie in the world, but he also doesn’t act like he owns the place. That sort of quiet confidence is a trait found in a lot of elite goalies. It reminds me a lot of Carey Price before he was drafted into the NHL.

Zhigalov has elite spatial awareness; he is cognizant of how his body should be positioned in order to take up the space that the puck flies through on the way to the net. He leans forward, similarly to Jonathan Quick, on chances in tight to close out space in the upper part of the net. He also brings his hands forward in tight spots to reduce space between his limbs. He follows the puck, not only with his eyes but also with his chest, into his glove.

Zhigalov’s aggression in net has been a work in progress this season. In Europe, goalies tend to play deeper in their net on the wide ice. Throughout the season, he has learned to play more aggressively, and now he plays naturally at the top of his crease. The key is to play aggressively, but not too aggressively, as goalies who play outside of their crease can get caught out of position, leaving an open net for opponents. Goalies who play too deep in their crease are vulnerable to getting beat point-blank on routine positional saves. If he can continue to finalize his comfortable level of aggression, it should translate well to the NHL.

At 6-foot-3, he has no trouble seeing over players’ attempts to screen him. He uses the common, modern style of standing almost straight up when the puck is at the point. When the play ventures closer in, he crouches lower and peeks around and under attackers to track the puck.

One underrated part of his game is his head movement. Even though he will peer around traffic to spot the puck, he doesn’t overextend himself to the point of losing his center of balance. Limiting head movement and using the head effectively to position the body for saves has been shown to improve puck tracking and reflexes amongst NHL goalies, including revamping Devan Dubnyk’s career a few years ago. Since Zhigalov seems to have that facet of his game taken care of, he won’t have to worry about it too much when he reaches the pros.

While there are a lot of positives to his game, he certainly has some things he needs to work on to make it to the NHL. His mechanics are generally good; he transitions from post to post fluidly, and he returns from butterfly to an upright position seamlessly using the modern method, bringing both knees to his chest at once. There are a number of NHL goalies who either can’t do this or choose not to, even though it is the future of NHL goaltending.

Related: Dylan Silverstein – 2022 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

However, other parts of his mechanics are not as polished. His glove hand tends to move a little more than necessary when transitioning from stance to stance. Sometimes, before a shot, his glove hand will drop to a low position when he moves into the butterfly, rather than keeping it more upright and in front of his body, leaving openings in the upper part of the net. At other times, his glove will stay too high when he transitions from his tall ‘avoid the screen’ stance to a more crouched position, which can make it harder to close the glove hand when a shot comes in. In general, like the head, the glove shouldn’t be moving too much so that its momentum doesn’t hinder a goalie from making saves in any direction.

Another area of improvement could be his rebound control. While he has average to above-average rebound control for his age, if he wants to be the best in the world, it’s certainly something he could clean up. While his quick feet and athleticism can bail him out for now, professional players will tuck in rebounds much more easily in the future.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in Zhigalov’s game at the moment is what I call his ‘busy feet’. The most effective and consistent goalies in the NHL are calm and poised in the net. While his quick feet are his biggest asset, he needs to be a little more patient with them, especially when the opposing players are in tight. He tends to look slightly jumpy when the play comes in close, and it affects his reflexes. If he can work on keeping his feet planted and keep his center of balance, he’ll be better equipped to spring across the net when he needs to. Although this is a coachable trait, it could end up holding him back from being a legitimate NHL starter.

Ivan Zhigalov – NHL Draft Projection

There aren’t many, if any, truly elite goaltenders in this year’s draft class. Due to this, Zhigalov might end up getting drafted higher than his projection suggests, especially if teams with limited goalie depth see him as a solid asset for the future. But due to 2022 being his second year of eligibility, he likely won’t be taken earlier than the third round, perhaps landing in the mid-third to early fourth.

Quotables

“He already has the size to be a good goalie at the next level. He’s got extremely quick feet, like the new style of goalies that you see in the National League, who move quickly. He’s a guy who’s calm in front of his net, he’s smart in his movements, he reads the game well, so I think he’s really a new generation goalie.” – Stéphane Julien, Head Coach, Sherbrooke Phoenix

“His patience and ability to read situations translates very well to the next level and his foundation of puck tracking, controlled quickness and good crease mobility is sure to be of interest to many.” – Shaun Richardson, FC Hockey

“He show[s] great movement and poise in the crease and doesn’t panic with traffic in front of him. The athleticism that he showed during the [CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game] is a reason why teams should line up for him at the 2022 NHL Draft.” – Peter Barrachini, THW

Strengths

  • Elite quickness
  • NHL-ready size
  • Modern, fluid style
  • Competitive drive

Under Construction – Improvements to Make

  • Glove hand mechanics
  • Busy feet
  • Rebound control

NHL Potential

With his innate drive to be the best, and if he can improve his poise, Zhigalov has the potential to be an NHL starting goalie. However, the more likely scenario is that he plies his trade in the American Hockey League or in Europe for a few years, and eventually reaches the NHL in a backup role, with a similar career path as Joonas Korpisalo.

Risk/Reward Analysis

Risk – 3/5, Reward – 2/5

Ivan Zhigalov Statistics


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