One of the things about this On the Bubble series I’m writing is that it focuses around players I am genuinely hoping can push for NHL jobs this year (and Freddie Gauther, but I assumed there would be questions if he wasn’t included.) So far we’ve seen Pickard and Borgman as two NHL ready options, and today we might just have our third in Justin Holl.
The Story on Justin Holl
Holl is a 26 year old with 2 NHL games to his name. He also has 2 NHL goals to his name, and that’s probably why he’s been elevated from an interesting Marlie to guy who some people are penciling in on the 2nd defense pairing. We’ll back up.
Holl is 6’3 and 205 lb, which should appease a lot of you fans of big defensemen. Unfortunately, at times his zone coverage has left a lot to be desired and we’re back to talking about someone who is mainly going to be considered an offensive defenseman (sorry, TLN Facebook, but eventually someone will right about Igor Ozhiganov for you.)
Justin isn’t a player who came out of nowhere, in fact he was drafted in the 2nd round back in 2010, a round that also produced Calvin Pickard, Martin Marincin, and Leafs legend Brad Ross. Since the time that the Blackhawks selected him, Holl did his full four years of NCAA hockey, and after one year in the ECHL the Hawks cut him loose.
That’s where the Leafs come in and gave Holl an AHL deal, followed by a NHL contract. The past three years has shown a steady improvement on a player it seemed the Hawks were just unwilling to work with, and was an enticing project for Kyle Dubas.
TWO FREAKING GOALS IN TWO FREAKING GAMES!!! DO YOU NEED ANY MORE NUMBERS THAN THAT???
Okay, you probably do. Well, they’ll be AHL Numbers, we’ve got them…
Yeah, those are pretty good too.
Holl has been playing big minutes for the Marlies since his arrival, and over the past three years has been shooting a little less, and scoring a little more.
Justin’s Goals For % was 59.77, which looks pretty darn good for a minute eating defenseman, but relative to his teammates came in at -.23, which still isn’t too shabby and something that may suggest sheltering needed for a little while at the NHL level, if he does indeed take that next step.
Best Case Scenario for Holl
Holl’s best case scenario is that his right handed shot carries him far, and he gets an opportunity to play in the top four because of it. Holl is both familiar with Dermott from the Marlies and Gardiner from their younger days in Minnesota, and maybe that familiarity will lead to lightning in a bottle, and we’ll cursing that they don’t let 26 year old rookies win the Calder anymore.
Worst Case Scenario for Holl
Holl could very well be the victim of too much offense on the blueline already. Babcock is quite possibly looking for someone to slow the play down, or block shots or hit someone through the glass. None of that aligns with Holl’s skillset. He could find himself back on the Marlies because of it, or lost on waivers or put in that bizarre Josh Leivo purgatory where you are afraid to lose him on waivers, but at the same time have no interest in playing him.
I kinda hate how realistic that last option seems for Holl.
I 100% want to believe in the Holl story and identify him as the next great late blooming NHLer. The fact that he’s a defenseman with an offensive game, he’s got the potential to get noticed, and the Leafs have quietly been doing good things with defensive development for a while. It would be great if this happened for Holl, but the reality is we’re probably talking about a guy who is going to get a chance to platoon in and out of the lineup with Connor Carrick at the start of the season, to see who works best for Mike Babcock.
What’s Likely to Happen?
I just touched on that. Holl is in that too good to lose for nothing pit which has haunted Leafs like Leivo and Carrick previously. The Catch 22 of teams not wanting to give up assets for him until they can see him play and the Leafs not wanting to play him just to showcase an asset, who might end up being too good to giveaway.
Given that the guy he is most likely to be platooning with is Connor Carrick, it seems reasonable to thing that it won’t be prolonged stretches for either of them without games, and looking at the Leafs overall defensive situation, it’s hard to imagine a situation where they don’t start with carrying 8 defensemen in October. So maybe that’s it. Maybe Rielly, Gardiner, Dermott, Zaitsev, Hainsey, Carrick, Marincin, and Holl are all Leafs since seven of them require waivers, and Dermott is too good to pretend that he should ever play another game in the AHL.