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2019 Leafs Prospect Rankings – The Long Shots: Pontus Holmberg

Pontus Holmberg

Position: C/LW

Age: 20

TLN 2018 Prospect Ranking: N/A

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Draft Information: 6th round, 156th overall in 2018

I’ll kick this one off by briefly discussing how the Leafs acquired Holmberg. I have a series coming out shortly about what we can infer from the way a team gets the rights to a player, so it’s fitting to do the same with Holmberg.

On the surface, it’s nothing special. The Leafs selected Holmberg in the 6th round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, 156th overall. What’s curious, however, is that the 156th pick happens to be the first of the 6th round, which was originally owned by Buffalo. In fact, the Sabres held this pick right until the end of the 5th round, then swapped it for the Leafs 2019 6th.

The first thing we learn is that Toronto was clearly targeting Holmberg, and they made this trade specifically to get him. Toronto’s two picks prior to Holmberg were 118th (Mac Hollowell), and 149th (Filip Kral). I’m not sure what exactly lead to this deal, but the Leafs could have taken Holmberg at 149th if they didn’t think he would be available at their next pick, 209th.

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It seems like the Leafs felt both Kral and Holmberg were available later than they should have been, and for different reasons. Kral ended up the 54th ranked NA skater by NHL Central Scouting, while Holmberg was unranked by most scouting services.

I’ll get to why he was unranked shortly.

The other interesting point about the trade that landed Holmberg in Toronto, was that it ended up being pick 156 in 2018 for pick 177 in 2019. You could argue that the strength of a draft class could make that an attractive trade, but it’s impossible to predict what the 6th round of a draft class will look like exactly one year prior to the draft. It would not have been possible for the Leafs pick in 2019 to be any lower than 156. Completely ignoring the fact that the Leafs were a near-lock for the playoffs in 2018-19, even if they managed to finish dead last, compensatory picks in the 2nd round could have made that pick later.

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All of this is to say the Sabres did the Leafs a solid for some reason, perhaps as a result of the beloved ‘future considerations’ trades.

Why Is He In This Tier?

Draft biases can change from year to year, but there’s a few that remain constant: age, size, and Russianness.

Holmberg hit two of those boxes, having already passed through the draft in 2017, and being under 6 feet. While teams are beginning to come around on the size bias, there’s no question that someone would’ve taken a flier on Holmberg earlier in the draft if he had that production wrapped around a 6’4″ frame.

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The “Russianness” bias is a bit of a joke, but teams are much less likely to take a player in the early rounds if they’re not certain that player will come to North America. Regardless, that’s not a factor here.

Since Holmberg isn’t too undersized at 5’11”, him being overaged would have been a more deciding factor. His production leading up to the 2017 draft in Swedish junior leagues wasn’t any indication of an NHL player, so it’s understandable why he was overlooked.

Holmberg’s production as a 19-year-old, though, tells a different story. 3 goals and 7 assists in 47 games for Vaxjo seems underwhelming, but only a mere 21 players under the age of 20 appeared in at least 35 SHL games last season. Of those 21, 17 were eventually drafted by NHL teams, and none of the remaining 4 out-produced Holmberg.

In fact, he tied for 11th in points from that group altogether.

To better understand Holmberg’s accomplishments, I dusted off my Swedish textbooks and took a look at the SHL’s website for some more information. Holmberg’s 13:11 of TOI per game ranked 9th amongst regular Vaxjo forwards, meaning Holmberg would play on the 3rd or 4th line.

The SHL’s website also has a stat called SOG%, which is what percentage of your attempted shots hit the net. Holmberg scored 62.92%, good for 3rd on the team (min 50 Shots). He also had the 4th most faceoffs on the team, an indication he spent a fair bit of time at 4C, but he put up an abysmal 43.2% on the draws. He ranked 11th amongst Vaxjo forwards with 1:18 in PP TOI/GP, and had minimal PK TOI.

Scouting Report

Holmberg’s scouting report is broken down into a number of categories he excels at.

Possession Numbers

None of the above metrics really tell us much about how Holmberg can drive play. Thankfully, the last tab on the SHL’s statistics section is Corsi/Fenwick/PDO, right after ‘Straffläggning’.

For Vaxjo Forwards with a minimum of 20gp, here are Homberg’s numbers (and rank) in each category.

CorsiFor% – 60.31% (1st)

FenwickFor% – 60.07% (2nd)

PDO – 95.85 (3rd)

To clarify, his PDO (a combination of on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage) is below 100, meaning that Holmberg was unlucky in regards to his team’s performance while he was on the ice. Placing third means he had the third-worst luck, an indication he should generate more points in the future as a product of regression.

The Lakers had a lousy 5.37% SH% with him on the ice, certainly a limiting factor to his point production, and especially for a pass-first player. What we can tell from this is that Holmberg is a dominant possession player with sub-par shooting luck in 2018-19. Keeping the 20 game minimum, Holmberg is third in league-wide CF%, behind 32-year-old Tom Wandell and former-Leafs Legend, Joakim Lindstrom.

The only thing more obscure than knowing Olli Jokinen played 6 games as a Leaf is knowing they traded him for Joakim Lindstrom and Nicolas Mattinen.

Comparisons

When a player doesn’t have a lot of game film or statistics available to tell you how good they are, I think it’s handy to compare them to a player we are familiar with, who played in the same league at the same age.

Unfortunately, Holmberg spent his 18-year-old season split between the SHL, SuperElit, and Swedish Division I, but here’s my best attempt.

18-year-old, SuperElit

Holmberg: 12gp, 5g, 6a

Andreas Johnsson: 42gp, 23g, 31a

Clearly, Johnsson performed better over a larger sample, but he also just capped off a 20-goal NHL season. Producing 70% of what Johnsson did as an 18-year-old isn’t too shabby, as long as Holmberg can continue to improve just like Johnsson did.

19-year-old, SHL/Allsvenskan

At this point, Johnsson was diagnosed with asthma, and absolutely took off.

For a more reasonable comparison, we have everyone’s favourite giraffe, Pierre Engvall. Unfortunately, he was playing in the slightly weaker relegation league Allsvenskan, but it’s still comparable. NHLe (NHL equivalency) models I’ve used in the past place SHL points at 0.67 of an NHL point, while Allsvenskan sits at 0.46. NHLe is far from perfect, but the SHL being ~35% more difficult isn’t too far off.

Holmberg: SHL, 47gp, 3g, 7a

Johnsson: SHL, 44gp, 15g, 9a

Engvall: Allsvenskan, 50gp, 12g, 12a

Even if you were to adjust for strength of competition, Johnsson clearly produces more than Engvall, who clearly produces more than Holmberg.

Best-Case/Worst-Case Scenario

Even if Holmberg isn’t as productive as Johnsson and Engvall, the track record for Thommie Bergman special 6th and 7th round Swedes is exceptional. There’s no way the Leafs make that draft-day trade without an endorsement from Bergman, so he must see some upside.

With what little information on Holmberg we have, here’s what I can conclude. He is an undersized centre that is terrible at faceoffs, yet still dominates possession. Over the course of his career, the bulk of Holmberg’s points have come from assists, so he’s more of a passer than a finisher.

Last season he had limited minutes both even strength and on the powerplay, combined with bad shooting luck while he was on the ice. Next year a bigger role, and some shooting percentage regression should give him an opportunity to compete for an Entry-Level Contract.

Johnsson and Engvall both produced roughly 0.6 SHL p/g in the year before they signed their ELC, so with Holmberg in the final year of his SHL contract, that should be his goal. He would be eligible for a 2-year ELC any time after January 1, 2020.

Outlook

Whether Holmberg earns an ELC or not, he’ll likely be invited to join the Marlies for a playoff run once his SHL season ends. His performance there will be Leaf fans’ best chance to gauge his chances of success at the NHL level.

While his skating and passing are strong points, and that fits well with the Leafs system, he’s got a lot of areas to improve upon before he can challenge for an NHL job. If that time ever does come, it’ll likely be as a winger. His ceiling is probably as a 3rd line winger who can be a positive possession player, but this is a long-term project.

The luxury for the Leafs is they hold Holmberg’s rights until June 1, 2022, so they have time to decide whether it’s a worthwhile project or not.


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