From a young age, players like Justin Holl long to make it to the NHL. Although unfortunate, most players do not get a chance to make it to the big club, because they simply do not have what it takes to compete at an elite level. Meaning that they spend most of their time playing in the minors. Heck, some even chose to go play overseas. But for Justin Holl, out of a spate of luck, made it to the pinnacle of the sport for a minor league player. Not only did Holl make it there, he had success as well. That is why Justin Holl should relish every moment he spent with the Leafs on the ice and in the locker room. Holl may not ever get the chance to experience it again.
Memories for Justin Holl
Justin Holl was a second-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks back in 2010. At the time, Holl was sought to be a nicely sized right-handed defenseman that could play forward. Maybe his Hockey IQ was not all there, but he had a nice shot and a daring aspect to him that many scouts liked. Holl was not a player that would quarterback a team’s power play or lead a team’s penalty kill. He was more, in a sense, a depth guy that had the looks of a top-four defenseman. Like most teams at the time, Chicago was willing to take a chance on a right-handed defenseman. With the team, Chicago had in place to develop their players, Holl could find a way to grow into the top four type of d-man Chicago wanted. That was not the case and Holl signed with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies in 2015.
Holl’s Minor League Days
Before Holl turned pro, he spent most of his time playing in the United South High School (USHS) for Minnetonka High and the United States Hockey League (USHL) playing for the Omaha Lancers and Team Southwest. Before graduating to the NCAA level (college) to play for the University of Minnesota.
In Holl’s high school days, he showed that he could put some points on the board. In 110 games at the USHS and USHL level, Holl scored 24 goals and netted 30 assists combining for a total 54 points. Not to mention, Holl had some impressive stats in the playoffs netting 8 points in 14 games. That roughly puts Holl on a half a point per game scoring pace through his minor career. That is not bad for a high school player. Holl showed he could contribute offensively from the defensive position. Although it is hard to compare those numbers to that of someone who is playing in the Canadian Hockey League, it is enough of a sample size for Holl to open up the door to a college hockey career.
Holl’s College Days
Holl’s days in college saw him evolve into a defensive-minded defenseman. In 142 games for the University of Minnesota, Holl 41 points, eight goals and 33 assists. It is fair to say that the pride of Tonka Bay, Minnesota had a drop off in his career. That is not all bad because Holl’s level of competition increased significantly when he started college. This can contribute to his drop in production. Although his play was not all that bad if a team was willing to pick him in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft.
Proof The NCAA Creates Solid NHLers
The NCAA is highly competitive when it comes to hockey. More and more scouts are paying close attention to the NCAA and its players because it seems over the last decade or so, more solid NHL players are coming out of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. In the Toronto Maple Leafs case, the NCAA has been good to them in recent years. Leafs centerman Tyler Bozak played two seasons in the NCAA for the University of Denver where he would land on the All-Rookie Team. Zach Hyman, who was acquired from the Florida Panthers by the Leafs in 2015, also played in the NCAA for the University of Michigan for four seasons. Hyman was a First Team All-American and First Team All-Big Ten selection after leading the Big Ten with 54 points (22 goals, 32 assists) while playing for the University of Michigan in his final season. That success would help them break into the NHL. The two have gone on to have much success in the NHL. Bozak is a key centerman for the Leafs. He creates plays and provides solid backchecking down the middle. Hyman is a hard worker who can do it all for the Leafs. That is why the Leafs head coach Mike Babcock pairs him up on the first line with Auston Matthews and William Nylander. In order to do this, teams had to take a risk. Things could go well, things could go bad, it’s always a risk.
How Are Things Going For Justin Holl In The Pros?
In Justin Holl’s professional career things have been going alright for him. He started his career in the ECHL with the Indy Fuel. Holl recorded 34 points in his first 66 professional games. That earned him a call-up to the AHL Rockford IceHogs, where he played two games. The next season, Chicago let him go and he signed an AHL deal with the Toronto Marlies. In Holl’s three years with the Marlies, his average is 20 points per season. Through 39 games in his 2017-2018 season, he has recorded 20 points. Holl could most certainly tie or maybe beat his all-time high in AHL career point total.
It is safe to say that Holl is getting better each year. Holl’s career arc seems to be that of a late bloomer. At 26 years of age, Holl seems to be playing the best hockey of his career. He is skating well. Holl has great awareness. He is not afraid to shoot. He is not afraid to be aggressive. Those qualities are something every scout likes and every coach loves. Although Holl still has holes in his game, he could very well be a top-pairing AHL defenseman in the near future. But is it realistic to think Holl can make it further than the American Hockey League?
Can Holl Make It Further?
If one takes a look at the Leafs depth chart going forward, it does not look like Holl will ever be a mainstay on the Leafs roster. Timothy Liljegren and others seem to have those future spots locked up. Maybe Holl might have a chance to crack a roster spot when players like Roman Polak and Ron Hainsey make their exits, but it seems unlikely that he could survive the acquisition of a top-four defenseman or the drafting of another young gun. Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner seem to be locked for the Leafs moving forward. Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen seem to be a part of the Leafs future. Not forgetting to mention, Connor Carrick. Holl is, unfortunately, the odd man out. Even with his stellar performance with the big club. A stellar performance that saw him become the first defenseman in Toronto Maple Leafs to score a goal in each of his first two NHL games. It seems unfair. Hell, it probably is. But that is the “sad but true” reality for Holl. Wherever he may roam, Holl will always be the odd man out.
Enjoying His Time In The NHL
Recently, The Athletic Toronto’s Scott Wheeler wrote a story called “In one: My four wild days trapped in minor-league hell with the Brampton Beast“. In this fine piece of journalism, Wheeler embarked on a weekend-long road trip with the ECHL’s Brampton Beast. Throughout Wheeler’s trip with the team, he saw what players were willing to do to make it to the NHL or at least keep that dream alive. Players were willing to live out of their cars. Players were willing to live paycheque-to-paycheque, partake in long bus rides, and sacrifice everything for the game they loved. Most knew that they would never make it to the AHL, let alone the NHL, but they keep playing. All these players would kill just to have a taste of the AHL. Most would die for their shot at the NHL.
This is why Justin Holl has to be content with his time in the NHL. Even if it was just two games. In the long run, that is more time than most will ever get. Holl may be disappointed, and rightfully so, but the fact of the matter is, Holl has to convince those that watch him that he deserves to stay in the NHL. Holl has to prove that he is worthy of taking another NHL player’s spot. No matter how many prayers he says or how good of a guy he is in the locker room, he will always be the odd man out. Justin Holl should cherish and remember his time with the Maple Leafs. Not many players get to the NHL, even fewer find success, such as his, in their brief time in the there.
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