Sunday, December 12, 2010

Victor Ignatjev

Victor Ignatjev was a late bloomer who had to overcome being labeled from early on in his career.

Victor's chances of making the NHL were always long at best. He was drafted as a 22 year old in the last round, 243rd overall by the lowly San Jose Sharks, who were coming off of a 71 loss season. Victor immediately came to North America where it was hoped that since he was older and physically more mature than most players drafted that year that he would be able to contribute. However adjustment to North American life and the North American game did not come easy for the soft-spoken, down right shy big man from Riga. He struggled on the ice as he struggled to learn English and adjust to life far away from his homeland. Ignatjev toiled asproperty of the.Sharks until 1997 when he was picked up by the lowly Tampa Lightning.

Victor toiled in the IHL until joining Long Beach in 1996. He exploded for 16 goals and 69 points. He backed up those numbers in 1997-98 with 12 goals and 45 points. Victor loved "Hockey on the Beach" as he finally found a a team that new how to use him well. A huge man at 6'3" 212 lbs, Ignatjev was a veery soft player. One reporter went as far to say that "A Victor Ignatjev body check couldn't crack an egg shell." In truth Ignatjev wasn't quite that soft, but he certainly didn't use his size to his advantage like you'd want a defenseman of that size to. And while he wasn't the greatest defenseman in his own zone, he was a good offensive blueliner, possessing the ability to spring a breaking forward with a pinpoint pass and possessing a low, hard, accurate shot.

It was that hard shot that interested the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens had scouted Ignatjev throughout the 1997-98 season and were impressed enough to sign him as a free agent on August 11, 1998. The Pens were hoping that Ignatjev could become a cheaper version of Fredrik Olausson.

"I watched him in the playoffs, and he'd play 30 minutes or more," assistant GM Eddie Johnston said. "I was there to watch other guys, too, but he always stood out."

Ignatjev came into camp and impressed with his shot and offensive ability. He particularly dominated in a preseason game against Washington. Ignatjev looked dominating on the Pens power play point, even scoring one goal.

However Ignatjev knew that he had to play more physically in order to make the Pens.

""I have to be more physical," he said. "Kevin (Coach Constantine) told me what was expected. On one of the first days, he told me to be more physical in the corners."

So was Constantine, a very intense, demanding coach, impressed with Ignatjev's game?.

"(He) shot the puck better than anybody shot it for us last year. Ignatjev played with a little grit, too. He combined all the things we're asking him to do."

And Ignatjev was rewarded with a spot on the Penguins roster.

Life was good, but not for long. Ignatjev played in 11 games in the NHL, collecting just 1 assist, before he was rocked with a badly injured shoulder. He was so badly hurt that he required surgery that caused him to miss the finall 66 games of the regular season. He did come back for 1 playoff game, but his rookie year in the NHL was all but wiped out by the serious injury.

Ignatjev had only signed a one year deal with the Pens and became a free agent in the summer of 1999. While it is not known what kind of offers he may have received from NHL clubs, obviously none were to his liking as he decided to go back to Europe. He signed to play the year in Germany. He later played in Sweden, Russia, Austria, Italy and Holland.

When the Pens hoped Ignatjev could have been a cheaper version of Fredrik Olausson, they made a decent comparison, albeit a best case scenario. Like Freddy, Victor had good size but didn't use it effectively. Also like Freddy, Victor had a great shot and good offensive abilities.

Unlike Freddy, a career in the NHL just never worked out for Ignatjev.

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