Shaun
Richardson
March 8, 2022

The Analysis: Ivan Zhigalov could reward a patient team

After going undrafted in 2021, Sherbrooke Phoenix goaltender Ivan Zhigalov is looking to rise into the 2022 NHL Draft conversation. 

His journey towards finding an NHL home came shortly after that disappointment. Zhigalov, who was born in Minsk, Belarus, received a summer camp invitation from the Montreal Canadiens but, due to COVID-19-related travel issues was unable to attend. 

He is now a 2022 draft re-entry who has seen some attention. Zhigalov was given a ‘C’ rating in NHL Central Scouting’s Preliminary ranking, indicating a potential late-round candidate in the fall. More recently, he was listed as second among North American goalies in Central Scouting’s Midterm ranking.

With a frame that projects nicely to the pro-ranks and a good athletic foundation, Zhigalov should be strongly considered among his peers in the 2022 draft class. 

Here’s why.

HOCKEY IQ

Situational reads for a goaltender are built around processing visual information from constantly reading, re-reading and adjusting. Zhigalov must determine an ever-changing array of options that a puck-carrier could have. He bases his decisions on puck proximity, shot versus pass options, rebound control and timing. 

From there, Zhigalov applies risk management principles to determine his vulnerability to shot location, body to post access (where are the holes), east-west movement, rebounds and ultimately how difficult can he make access to the net in this instance. Once Zhigalov weighs those options, he settles on what he is trying to achieve in terms of ice seal, post seal, lateral coverage, tracking and puck access. 

Zhigalov is seemingly making an abundance of decisions simultaneously, aided by pattern recognition, anticipation and poise, but it’s not enough to simply have a tactical game plan. He has the mental toughness to maintain a next save mentality and a competitive streak to battle through breakdowns and stay in the play in desperate situations.

BLENDED STYLE

Zhigalov plays a hybrid style. At least, that’s the conclusion you come to when you check off the boxes to determine where he fits in. But it’s difficult to put a label on any goaltender that encompasses the entire scope of their play, and Zhigalov is no different. He does employ a lot of those classic ‘hybrid’ indicators like patience and calmness. He’s also effective while on either his feet or in the butterfly position and his puck reads and reaction to shots are very deliberate. 

That doesn’t mean that he won’t use elements of a blocking style and let the puck just hit him, or stay on his feet to handle long range shots in a traditional stand-up style. Zhigalov will often take away the bottom of the net in more of a pure butterfly style but can also play an athletic butterfly with quick and active hands and a bit of desperation. 

When you add it all up though, I find Zhigalov plays a hybrid style somewhere along a spectrum that favors various techniques as determined by what he reads as necessary at the time.  

FROM A TECHNICAL STANDPOINT

Let’s dive into Zhigalov’s process a bit further as we look at the techniques and decisions that take him from pre-shot preparation, through to the save and into post-save recovery.

In pre-shot preparation we’ll breakdown his stance, skating/mobility, puck tracking and how he approaches lost puck situations. 

Stance 

Zhigalov varies his stance depending on puck location, but always maintains a good foundation with foot placement up through his legs to his chest and shoulders. Hand and stick placement are also important elements of his posture.  

When the puck is higher in the zone, Zhigalov holds a taller stance with a high knee flexion, narrow foot placement and toes directed toward the puck. His feet are about shoulder width apart and he applies balanced pressure to the balls of his feet and inside edges of his skate blades. Zhigalov keeps his hands projected in front of him, positioned slightly wider than his torso. While we will take a closer look at his glove activity later, Zhigalov’s overall appearance is one of comfort with his stick elevated above the ice and ready to engage in a save. 

As the play funnels deeper into the zone, Zhigalov increases his knee bend, his foot placement becomes moderately wider, and he takes on a more athletic posture maintaining an upright chest and level shoulders square to the shooter. His stick is now placed at ice level and slightly extended outward in front of his pads and angled to steer low pucks away from the front of the net or up into his body as he drops into his butterfly. 

Skating/Mobility

Zhigalov has very good crease movements in pre-save scenarios. He has excellent balance and when following the play, and uses a collection of small shuffles to remain puck centered. Zhigalov is an efficient skater with superb edges who can telescope outward with an easy thrust — although he seldom ventures beyond the blue ice — and retreats with a quick C-cut before once again balancing his weight on both feet for a controlled glide. 

Zhigalov moves really well post-to-post across his goal line. His post entries are accurate and generally very clean, and his post exits are quick with the ability to recover to his feet or back across the line. 

Tracking

Zhigalov’s puck tracking is an extension of his stance. He is very focused and the taller stance gives him great sightlines on pucks at a distance. He continues to be engaged as the puck gets into the zone and he shifts into his athletic stance. Since he is able to stay with the puck throughout the play, Zhigalov seems very much in control and able to commit to a save selection after the shot is released. Indicators from the puck-carrier like body posture, foot placement and stick positioning help Zhigalov read the release, determine possible pass options, and have more reaction time. 

With the additional time, Zhigalov can hold his edges longer and gain some advantage over the shooter. Keeping his chin tucked down, Zhigalov maintains a steady trace on the puck and tracks it all the way into his body. He stays with deflections, tracks shots that ricochet and moves toward any rebounds he may give up. 

Lost puck situations 

Like all goalies, more often than not Zhigalov has to deal with layers of traffic passing through his field of vision or setting up directly in front of him. In these situations, he relies on maintaining visual attachment with the puck as he looks over obstructions. As he transitions into his active save stance, he battles hard to gain sightlines and looks through and around bodies. 

While a reactionary save tends to suggest good puck-tracking, in these situations where visual puck attachment is lost Zhigalov reads the play and anticipates points of potential vulnerability. He identifies shot lanes, prioritizes the threat and sets up for a positional save.  

Save Selection

As we’ve already seen, Zhigalov relies on a combination of reactionary saves and positional blocking depending on the degree of visual attachment he has. As a rule, he establishes his angle and then his depth when addressing the puck. On most long-range and mid-range shots, he uses controlled lateral shuffles or t-pushes to be centered and holds an aggressive depth, which for Zhigalov is right about at the top of his crease. From this location he cuts down much of what a shooter sees without being overly committed and unable to adjust to lateral puck movement. 

On plays in-tight, or in scramble situations where sight and access to the puck is difficult, Zhigalov prioritizes his coverage. 

  1. Cover Middle: Zhigalov retreats to the center of his net to establish his positioning.
  2. Cover Low: Zhigalov drops into a butterfly to take away the low part of the net.
  3. Cover Flush: Zhigalov focuses on securing a firm pad seal on the ice.  
  4. Expand Coverage Width: Zhigalov looks to widen his area of low coverage by flaring his legs out and either establishing visual contact with the puck or reacting to the body language of those around him. 
  5. Cover Vertical: After first taking away the lower part of the net, Zhigalov leans forward to surround the play, projects his hands and defends against any challenges toward the upper part of the net. 

It’s worth noting that Zhigalov has very smooth mobility, which benefits a couple details of his play in a variety of save actions. He moves without any additional bobbing up and down, which keeps his eyes on a consistent plane and helps him accurately track the puck the entire length of its path. The other detail is Zhigalov’s balance and timing, particularly as it relates to his back flow when facing an attack. He establishes his backward speed early so that his retreat is a balanced glide without any weight shifts, thereby giving him lateral neutrality to make saves to either side. 

Post Play

We’ve already touched on Zhigalov’s post entry and exit, but let’s look a little closer at his on-post play. When the puck is located below the bottom of the circle in a low-threat position, Zhigalov will be on his feet in an athletic pre-shot stance with low knee flexion and chin down. 

On pucks that are in a more high-danger shot position or closer to the net but below the goal line, Zhigalov plays a Reverse Vertical Horizontal (RVH). He sets up his RVH with a toe-box lock, his upper body sealed tight to the post, his glove or blocker (depending on which side he’s on), taking away any gap along the post above the pad and his torso is tall to take away any high openings. On the glove side, Zhigalov projects his stick out and on the blocker side he uses it to take away potential passing options from below the goal line.

Post-Save Recovery

When boiled down to its essence, post-save recovery is simply a matter of transitioning out of one save in order to optimize the potential of making the next save. 

In the best-case scenario Zhigalov would contain every puck and freeze the play, but rebounds are unavoidable. In multiple shot sequences Zhigalov’s mobility allows him to transition from the first save into the second save with very fluid down movements. His eyes lead by establishing puck recognition and direction, followed by his hands and upper body rotation which prompts his hips to swivel. 

Once on a new path, he grabs ice with the inside edge of his drive leg and a strong but controlled push sets him up to make the next save. It’s this ability to make constant readjustments and changes in addressing shot angle and puck location that allows Zhigalov to arrive early for saves and be square and puck centered. 

Tracking pucks away from the body after the save is just as important as tracking them into the body from a shot, and Zhigalov routinely stays on the puck and visually follows his rebounds out. He also tries to direct rebounds toward the strong side of the ice where he can keep the puck in front of him and address any follow up attempts. 

Although Zhigalov has really good balance and can push with power toward second save locations, rebounds that unexpectedly trail off to the weakside do create more difficulties for goaltenders.

Details are important and can make all the difference in post-save situations. Zhigalov shows a real understanding of these details by seamlessly loading his push leg to propel himself in the necessary direction to follow the play. 

It’s also worth pointing out that when returning to his feet from a butterfly stance, Zhigalov consistently leads with his glove-side leg. It’s a very subtle detail but an important one. By stepping up on the glove-side first, he is able to maintain his stick and blocker positioning and avoid having to move the stick, and therefore the blocker as well, in order to have room to step up with his blocker-side leg first. 

DEVELOPMENT

First, I’ll say that there is a lot to like about Zhigalov’s glove play. As he tracks pucks in high traffic situations he will often rely on his glove to handle the shot. I also find that he consistently shows good body mechanics in tandem with his glove by leaning into saves rather than reaching. 

In desperate situations that require sprawling lateral movements, Zhigalov uses his glove as a second layer to ‘build a wall’ and add height to an extended pad. Even with all these strong points, there remains some glove-related concerns that should be addressed.

Generally, Zhigalov holds his glove in one of two positions. While tracking pucks and not actively facing a shot, it is projected out in a comfortable mid-torso height with his hand in a neutral position. When actively transitioning into a save-ready posture however, Zhigalov raises his glove hand closer to shoulder height in a more pronated position with an anterior wrist extension. As his glove projects further forward, he can sometimes increase that wrist extension to the point that it makes closing his hand slower and less effective. That can, and does, sometimes lead to Zhigalov dropping what appears to be very catchable pucks. 

To be fair, his glove still does cover a lot of surface area which aids in blocking a shot, but controlling the puck is often difficult because the glove is square to the shooter rather than being square to the upward trajectory of the puck. Overall, Zhigalov has a good glove hand that shows a lot of quickness but if shooters can detect specific tendencies or weaknesses, they will exploit them. 

PROJECTION

In the lead up to the 2021 draft I spent some time familiarizing myself with Zhigalov’s play. At the time, I saw a good goaltender who wasn’t on Central Scouting’s radar but I felt deserved strong consideration ahead of a number of others who were. I didn’t see a lot of athleticism in his game and I recall thinking that rebound control could be a bit of a minor issue but overall, he read the play well and seemed to always be in position. 

I saw some growth potential and felt that he could be a very savvy late round pick for an organization willing to draw up a comprehensive development plan and help Zhigalov reach his ceiling. 

This time around, I think that Zhigalov has a lot more to offer and would be one of the better goaltending options available in the 2022 class. Granted, this draft doesn’t seem to feature the same quality of high-end goaltending talent, but an organization willing to invest in developing a goaltender through their system could see some real value in Zhigalov. 

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. I believe Zhigalov could be selected as early as the third round. 

I admit that in most years a third-round selection could be considered high for him, but I’m far from convinced that this draft class features a lead pack of goalies that the others are chasing and if it does, Zhigalov may well be in that lead pack. Assuming that Zhigalov does hear his name called in the upcoming draft, I expect we will see him in summer camp with the parent club and perhaps a couple brief pre-season auditions over the next few years. 

He will likely continue to develop at the Major Junior level and could then find himself with an extended AHL or European stay before earning his opportunity in the NHL. Further down the line I see Zhigalov as having potential as a NHL backup or used in a potential platoon situation. 

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