July 05, 2017

Hockey Heroes: John Ogrodnick

Despite 6 seasons of 35 or more goals - including the 1984-85 season when he scored 55 goals and 105 points - John Ogrodnick never really got his due as one of hockey's top left wingers in the 1980s.

I suppose that is partially because of his contemporaries. Top players around the league were scoring 50-60 goals, even higher in the case of Wayne Gretzky, with regularity. Somehow Ogrodnick's usual 40+ goals was reduced to look just ordinary.

Ogrodnick was a streaky scorer who broke in with Detroit in 1980 when the team was nicknamed the Dead Wings. For much of his 7 years in Detroit Ogrodnick was one of the few bright lights in the darkness before Steve Yzerman's arrival.

Johnny O just went about his job contently, uncomplaining about his lack of stardom.

The Wings drafted Ogrodnick in the 4th round of the deep 1979 Entry Draft. Two years later he was playing in the NHL All Star game.

When Ogrodnick called up to the Wings after half a season in the minors, he was immediately placed on a top line with Dale McCourt and Mike Foligno. By 1980-81 he responded with a 35 goal campaign and his inclusion at the mid-season classic.

Trades would see McCourt and Foligno leave Detroit, leaving Ogrodnick struggling to find similar chemistry with new linemates.

After a disappointing drop to 28 goals in 1981-82, Ogrodnick started a string of 4 strong seasons where he proved to be one of the top left wingers in all of hockey. He scored 41, 42, 55 and 38 goals in the following 4 seasons, often playing on a line with Steve Yzerman. He was even named to the NHL first all star team in 1985.

At the time 55 goals was a team record. That's quite the feat for a team with the likes of Mickey Redmond, Marcel Dionne and Gordie Howe in its past.

The key to Ogrodnick's game was his exceptionally quick release which he was never shy to use. He had a goal scorer's mentality, always looking to shoot first and may a play second. He was especially adept at using defensemen as screens.

"I think the key to scoring is hitting the net with your shot. You very seldom have time to find a corner so you have to get the shot off quickly - and get it somewhere on the net," Ogrodnick advises.

Naturally he was very proficient on the power play. He had good first step acceleration to get himself into open holes and he could read the offensive play forming nicely.

Ogrodnick was a scorer, but he needed a good playmaking center to set him up. Early in his career that was Dale McCourt's job, then it was Steve Yzerman's. Because Ogrodnick was not much of a grinder the line would usually rely on a mucker on the right side in order compliment Ogrodnick and the center.

"What I try to do in the offensive zone is anticipate the rebounds and find the holes. I like to move around and stay in the open so the center has someone to pass it to."

A suspect backchecking game by Ogrodnick got him into hot water with coach Brad Park. That, combined with Detroit's continued failure to find success, ultimately saw Johnny O's departure from Detroit. He was traded to Quebec but a year later he found himself in New York with the Rangers.

Ogrodnick's career seemed to be closing when he erupted in 1989-90 with a 43 goal season that saw him earn Rangers' MVP awards. The line of Ogrodnick, Kelly Kisio and Brian Mullen was the talk of New York, but the fame dissipated after one season.

Ogrodnick returned to the Red Wings for a 19 game cameo appearance in 1992-93, but he would miss out on all of the Wings success in the years following.

Ogrodnick retired after the 1993 season. He played in 928 games and scored 402 goals and 827 points. He added 18 goals in 41 playoff contests.

In retirement Ogrodnick remained in the Detroit area and took a job as an investment counselor.

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