April 21, 2024

Tij Iginla is authoring his own legacy as 2024 NHL Draft nears

Tij Iginla, the son of a legend and Hockey Hall of Famer, is looking to author his own legacy.

Iginla, of course, is the son of Hall of Famer, Jarome Iginla — one of hockey’s all-time greats. His eldest son has already grown to be an excellent hockey player in his youth. Now, 24 years after his father was taken by the Dallas Stars in the 1995 NHL Draft, Tij has the potential to be taken ahead of dad.

And, as a first-round option in the 2024 NHL Draft, Tij is captaining his own career, and steering out from behind his father’s legacy and into his own. 

Tij Iginla’s journey of authoring his own legacy

Iginla, born on August 1, 2006 in Lake Country, British Columbia, is a 17-year-old forward playing in the Western Hockey League. Last season, his first in the WHL, he netted 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 48 contests. This season, he has completely blown that number out of the water. He finished the regular season with 84 points (47 goals, 37 assists) in 64 games.

That’s ahead of his dad’s draft production pace when he netted 71 points (33 goals, 38 assists) in 63 games in 1994-95, even with era-adjusted scoring. 

 Two-and-a-half decades later, Iginla is earning his own draft accolades and sits No. 23 in FCHockey’s Midterm ranking for the 2024 draft

Deceiving and slippery, Iginla is hard to contain

Iginla, who added an additional 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 11 games in the WHL Playoffs, is an exceptional skater. While he may not have that consistent ability to burn defenders wide all game long, he has some borderline elite traits that make him hard to defend as a skater. For one, he has good core and lower-body strength on the puck, and especially when he anticipates contact. He will get low and lean into the defender, with one hand on his stick, and hold off the defender for time. His puck control also aids him, as even when he loses control for a split second he recovers almost immediately after. When given more space to work with, Iginla displays near-elite edges, able to open his hips and change the angle he is skating to throw off defenders. 

On top of his strength in tight spaces and strong edges in space to keep defenders guessing his path, he also possesses strong acceleration. When Iginla feels pressure on his hip, he is really good at slamming on the breaks and cutting back up the wall, and he can break away from whoever is defending him in those spots. His quick feet and the power he generates allows him to pull away quickly. The downside to his skating is when he isn’t anticipating contact. Iginla can be a bit too easy to knock down when he is unsuspecting of a hit. There are also times where he can bite off more than he can chew, and can be pushed around in some spots. But overall, that can be adjusted; he is an excellent, albeit not super speedy, skater. 

Creativity and confidence fuel his engine

When it comes to creativity in this class, Ivan Demidov takes the cake. But, while Iginla may not have the dynamism and flair that Demidov possesses, he can still dazzle and make jaws drop.

That’s especially true off the rush, as he is not scared at all to skate right through defenders. Using his excellent edges and strong hands, he can knife through two defenders with ease at times and make a drive towards the net. When there’s an established offensive-zone structure, Iginla loves working from the corners and finding ways to get to the slot. Oftentimes, he’ll skate down towards the corner then, within a few seconds, will emerge out of the corner and into the slot. 

That creativity to find ways to beat defenders one-on-one — and even, sometimes, one-on-two — is certainly one of his top traits. But perhaps his strongest trait is what he does with the puck once he gets to those areas — score goals. Iginla loves to shoot, and he loves to shoot from high-danger areas constantly. He has the ability to get shots off from anywhere on the ice, under any amount of pressure. Iginla can shoot off-platform and still place the puck over the goalies shoulder. He has a knack for finding the back of the net.

Playmaking and immense IQ rounds out his offensive game

Stickhandling into dangerous areas and finishing off plays in tight with a great shot is wonderful. But let’s be honest, Iginla certainly isn’t small, but he isn’t exactly big, either. In the NHL, with massive humans who are just as smart and fast and skilled as he is, if not more, that ability will not be a consistent threat. But that’s okay.

Iginla, who stands at 6-foot and 185 pounds, is a very intelligent player both with and without the puck. While he loves shooting, he also understands when a teammate is in a good spot. He’s also good at judging the odds of a pass actually reaching its intended target, thus he does not force passes often. But if a defender respects his shot and closes a shooting lane, leaving one of his teammates open in a better spot, he will find him. 

Iginla’s ability to get open away from the puck is evident, but not perfected

Iginla is masterful at finding open space away from the puck. But not just in any way. He knows exactly where to be to exploit a passing lane. Iginla consistently gets open in the perfect spot for his teammate to easily hit him with a pass. The problem is, he can be a bit too conservative with where he is positioned. While there are times he gets to the back-door and net-front, more often than not he will be positioned closer to the point area.

Usually, Iginla parks himself at the top of the faceoff circles, supporting over the top of the puck and giving his teammate a good option to send the puck. But that usually keeps him further out from the net, lending itself to blocked shots and easier saves for the goalie. Learning to find those open spaces tighter to the net will be significantly harder, but it is necessary to build his game even further. The knowledge and vision is there, he just needs to use it more often in those areas. 

The offensive numbers behind the WHL sniper

In a three-game random sample from January 17-27, Iginla fired off 24 total shot attempts, with 16 of them hitting the net for a 66.67% success rate. Of those 24 shots, 13 came from high-danger areas, with nine of them on net — including two goals. He added another goal from medium-danger range, where he had a total of eight shots and six on net. Of the shots that didn’t hit the net, just three were blocked. That’s all at even-strength. On the power play, he fired off seven shot attempts but failed to hit the net once. Only two of his shots came from high-danger, while four came from medium-danger. Of the seven attempts, three more were blocked.

As a passer in those same three games, Iginla completed 19 of his 28 attempted passes at even-strength in the offensive zone. Of those 28 attempts, 11 were considered high-danger passes, completing six of them. Iginla also had four shot-assists, the pass that sets up a shot, with three of them generating a scoring chance. On the man-advantage, Iginla completed all 15 of his passes, with three considered from high-danger. 

Another skill he displays is a high-end motor. Iginla forced three turnovers on the forecheck, while also holding the blue line on one occasion to extend possession. He can make an impact as a player who creates chaos and forces opponents into mistakes, consistently. 

Offensive game summation

Iginla is a shooter at the end of the day. He is a constant threat to find an opportunity to score goals, both with the puck on his stick and without. He displays incredible skill to out-smart and out-skill defenders in the form of skating manipulation with his edges and his puck manipulation. Iginla knows how to get defenders to move where he wants, opening up lanes for himself to exploit. Then, he usually shows off excellent scoring traits to take advantage.

But there are times where Iginla has tunnel vision, opting for a shot with little chance of getting to the net rather than the better passing option. His style, coming from the boards or corners and attacking to the middle, is great, but worrisome. 

The worry is translatability. When he faces bigger, stronger, smarter and faster competition, it is unlikely his puck skills will work as consistently. Thus, he needs to layer in more playmaking traits. Additionally, he mostly works from the perimeter. That’s not to say he can’t exist in the slot, he does. But away from the puck, he doesn’t place himself in dangerous areas often, opting to stay up high or in puck support. He displays immense positional IQ and ability to exploit openings. He needs to use that ability tighter to the net more often.

Adding more of a consistent passing skill to his repertoire, while simultaneously being more aggressive away from the puck, could really open his game up in a big way. Especially with his already strong motor. 

Iginla is one of the most efficient transitional players in the 2024 class

When it comes to moving the puck up ice, there are few in this class who do it better than Iginla. When you take his traits, it isn’t much of a surprise. The guy can skate well, using excellent edges to keep defenders guessing, along with excellent hands. Oh, and he happens to be really smart, too. That ability to attack off the rush is evident in his game. 

Not only is he efficient at entering the offensive zone, but he is also very good when exiting the defensive zone. While he isn’t as engaged in that area, in the opportunities he has to exit the zone he does very well. He is a hard player to stop or even slow down, especially with room to move. Often, when he exits the zone, it will lead to an immediate entry afterwards. Iginla is a buzzsaw, and that makes him special in this area. 

What the numbers tell us about Iginla

When it comes to entering the offensive zone, Iginla was directly involved in 25 attempted entries in those tracked games. Of those, he successfully entered the offensive zone with possession on 18 of them for a 72% entry success rate. He failed to enter the zone entirely on just four occasions, and he dumped the puck in on the other three attempts. One of those dump-ins was retrieved by a teammate, essentially meaning that 19 of his entries led directly to offensive zone time. 

When it comes to exiting the defensive zone, Iginla was directly involved in 12 zone exit attempts. Nine of those 12 were successful and controlled with possession for a 75% exit success rate. He did completely fail to exit the zone on the other three attempts, which isn’t great. Yet, he was still exceptional at getting the puck out safely and with an opportunity to gain the offensive zone. 

Iginla’s defensive game is a work in progress

Iginla’s energy can shine through in the defensive zone — sometimes. When it does, he does show a strong ability to support low and create some turnovers on occasion. He also has an acute awareness of where to be and where to go. But, like his energy levels, he doesn’t show that consistently. There are times where he is disengaged from the play and can get caught cheating up the ice. Other times, he doesn’t really position himself in the right spots to support his teammates.

He does get penalty killing time as well, but his role has been more of a change of pace type of guy. He can create a lot of trouble while shorthanded with his skating paired with a more laid-back defense from the other team. 

One thing he does do well, that deserves praise, is his backchecking. Similar to his ability to create chaos on the forecheck, Iginla uses his skating to pressure opponents into rushing their entries or dumping pucks in. That is a useful trait when engaged. If a coach can get him to buy-in, or he takes that side of the ice more seriously in tougher competition, then he can become an important forward in his own end. His energy alone could be enough to make a positive impact if used on a more consistent basis. 

In-zone defensive ability

As for the numbers behind his defensive game, Iginla had 20 defensive zone touches in the same aforementioned three games. Of those 20, he had three giveaways, which were his zone exit fails. He did force a turnover in the defensive zone, however, which kick-started an exit. He added a blocked shot, too. It isn’t much in that area, but it shows a willingness to at least get involved on occasion and make things work. As for his backchecking, he had only one entry disruption. But an entry disruption is described as a backchecker that forced a turnover prior to the team getting to the blue line. 

Iginla’s game, summarized

Iginla is a high-energy and high-paced forward. He can be a highlight reel sometimes with his hands, IQ, and goal-scoring tendencies. His flash as a passer shows promise for an even more diverse and dangerous game. Transitionally, he can be a game-changer with his raw skills, which is a very crucial part of the game that many teams are paying more and more attention to. His potential to round out his defensive game could also provide some comfort as well for teams looking his way. 

While there are some concerns about his offensive game — specifically his goal-scoring being able to translate — there is tons of potential there. If Iginla is able to round out his offensive game, becoming more aggressive with his positioning away from the puck, he could be a first-line winger with point-production upside.

If he does not round out his game fully, but is able to translate his goal-scoring, he could still be a 20-plus goal-getter with 40-plus point potential. It’s unlikely Iginla will be elite, but he will be an exceptionally fun player that will be loved by any team who takes him. 

What others are saying

“Iginla is a savant attacker with superior offensive skill and confidence with the puck. He displays high-end awareness as his head is always on a swivel, constantly scanning for lanes and open spaces. He keeps his legs moving and stays engaged all game long, grabbing openings as soon as he can. He’s a constant danger in the offensive zone and off the rush, displaying shiftiness with the puck to get through defenders from the middle ice as much as from the wall. He blends deception, fakes, and baits efficiently to prevent opponents from stripping him the puck.” – Joey Fortin Boulay, FCHockey regional scout

“Iginla is just generally shifty in his approach with shoulder fakes and his ability to lean hard on one leg and spring power to the other. His stickhandling and edge work can freeze opposing defenders and buy himself time to decide what he wants to do… There’s a lot to like and appreciate in Iginla overall. I think he’s got top-six upside in the NHL, and I’d look at selecting him in the back-half of the first round in the 2024 draft.” – Aaron Vickers, FCHockey regional scout

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