In Kyle Dubas’ final OHL draft, with his 2nd to last pick, he selected Mac Hollowell. He was only 5’8″ and 169 lbs when the Greyhounds snagged him 237th overall, but he would wind up cracking the OHL the season after he was drafted.
When it came time for Hollowell’s NHL draft in 2017, his name was not called. The diminutive defenceman was struggling to get top 4 minutes thanks to the deep roster Dubas left behind when he joined the Leafs. It wasn’t until the 2017-18 OHL season when Hollowell started turning heads, assuming a larger role for the Greyhounds while Rasmus Sandin and Conor Timmins were at the World Juniors or injured.
Kyle Dubas was handed the Leafs reins ahead of the 2018 draft, and he made short work of acquiring the Greyhound’s two top scoring defencemen. The Leafs selected Sandin 29th overall, and Hollowell 118th overall. It’s worth noting that Hollowell was projected closer to the 6th round, but the Leafs took him in the 4th. Not the first time, nor will it be the last, that Dubas shows his confidence in the evasive RD.
RANK – GRADE – NHL READINESS
13TH – C – 1-2 YEARS
Weight: 170 lbs
Drafted: 2018 4th round, 118th overall
What kind of player is he?
Despite his size, Hollowell is willing to engage physically in the defensive zone. It was evident in the OHL that he wasn’t intimidated by larger players, absolutely essential for a small defenceman to survive in the NHL. Still a 5’10” defenceman is not going to be blowing players up at the blueline, so Hollowell relies on his gap control to maintain the middle of the ice.
5'9 Mac Hollowell knocks down 6'3 John Nyberg. pic.twitter.com/262MopmWEj
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) November 16, 2019
Without the puck in the defensive zone, he uses his positioning to contain a threat. He doesn’t have a long stick like Kristians Rubins to take away options, so Hollowell has to stay tighter to his man and pressure the puck. Fortunately he has a great toolset for puck pursuit, his quick feet allow him to stay in stride with the most talented offensive players. In a structured defensive system Hollowell can absolutely do his part, the key is that he’s not expected to change the game defensively.
He can afford to be unexceptional in the defensive zone because when his team has the puck, Hollowell is a monster.
Newly signed Mac Hollowell (Leafs) has a compelling argument for best defender in the OHL, if not CHL. Limited CHL Tracking sample suggests he's the most well-rounded of 250 defenders with 90th+ percentile in offence, transition, and entry defence statistics (5v5 only). pic.twitter.com/PJQ90tygsS
— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) March 7, 2019
Whenever his team secures the puck, they can turn it over to Hollowell to quarterback a breakout. He tends to skate the puck out of his own zone, and if the ice is open he just keeps skating.
Mac Hollowell is sure looking like a nice 4th round pick for the Leafs pic.twitter.com/yk5wEL9goo
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) November 5, 2018
— dylan (@dylanfremlin) June 29, 2018
He is so elusive in the neutral zone, he can shake pressure with a fake pass, he can drive wide and duck a check, in most cases he approaches the offensive zone with enough speed that the opposing defender cannot step up at the blueline. With his slight frame he can cut through the neutral zone laterally and create chaos, which opens up short passes after gaining the offensive blue line. Think about how Mitch Marner maneuvers the neutral zone after picking up the drop on the powerplay, that’s a strength Hollowell shares.
He also harnesses his footwork to drag the puck to the middle of the ice and shoot from high danger areas. He’s more selective with his shots than a RD like Tyson Barrie, but has a similar proficiency for finding open lanes. Hollowell is also a great distributor on the powerplay, he picked up 22 PP assists in his final OHL season.
By the numbers
In Hollowell’s true draft year he had 23 points in 63 OHL games, as a 5’10” defenceman it’s not shocking he was not selected. He followed that up with 56 points in 63 games in 2017-18, leading to his selection by the Leafs. He would also add 16 points in 24 playoff games as the Soo lost to Hamilton in the OHL finals.
In 2018-19, Hollowell made his mark on the OHL. 2nd on the team with 77 points in 64 games, and 1st in the OHL for points and goals by a defencemen. When his OHL season ended he stepped right onto the Marlies blue line for 9 playoff games, snatching a roster spot from freshly signed Joseph Duszak.
Last season Hollowell started out with the Newfoundland Growlers, notching 13 points in 19 games. He quickly earned a call up to the Marlies and stuck, with 12 points in 34 games. He seemed primed to take on a much larger role with the Marlies in 20-21, but is now in Finland on loan to TUTO Hockey. He has 5 points in 5 games to start the season there.
What’s next for Hollowell?
I thought it was interesting TUTO’s Head Coach (Antti Virtanen) was a teammate of Sami Vatanen before he came to the NHL. Vatanen is another undersized RD who has proven himself in the NHL, with over 400 career games under his belt. Hollowell has a desirable combination of skating and hockey sense, he really has the potential to be a new breed of offensive defenceman the Leafs have never had before.
If TUTO’s coach can help develop the tools Vatanen rode all the way to the NHL, Hollowell is in good hands. He’s certainly putting on a good show, with a pair of pretty goals:
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) November 14, 2020
It’s evident in Finland he’s being encouraged to roam the offensive zone. It could just be a function of larger ice and a European style of play, but Hollowell was a threat all over the ice in the OHL as well. Hollowell seems like a more extreme version of Travis Dermott, with the good parts dialed up but the deficiencies more pronounced.
I have such a difficult time even calling Hollowell’s defensive zone play a deficiency, because he’s able to keep the puck outside of his own end for so long. He just lacks the ability to go into the corner and bully someone for the puck, or claim ice in front of the net. Like a NASCAR built to turn left Hollowell is built for offence, he can also turn right and play defence, but you can’t expect the same results.
In the right system, with the right partner, Hollowell can be transformational. He’s not going to offer all that Morgan Rielly does, but he can add nitrous to the offence. He’s fast, agile, elusive, a good passer, a good finisher, and he even shoots right.
I don’t suspect he’ll spend the whole season in Finland’s 2nd league, if and when the AHL resumes he should be on the Marlies. Looking ahead to 21-22 he’ll still be waiver exempt and the Marlies seem like a natural landing place again. With that being said, Kyle Dubas *really* believes in this kid.
Since Hollowell was drafted as a 2nd time eligible, he couldn’t have signed an ELC that would have slid for a season. He went through the start of 18-19 without a contract but torched the OHL. He was eligible to sign an ELC for 19-20 on March 1, the ink was dry by March 7. It might not have resulted in much, but Hollowell was also the one who replaced Liljegren on the Leafs play-in roster this year.
He also signed an ELC that keeps him under the $800k emergency recall limit by $234. That means if the Leafs are capped out and have an injury on the blueline, Hollowell can play for $0 against the cap. I doubt that was a coincidence, and that ELC expires in 2022. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get a few NHL games before then.
Hollowell still has a lot of raw talent, and a long way to go before he’s an every day NHLer. You don’t jump from TUTO Hockey to the Maple Leafs in a season. He’s also going to need to put on some muscle, Travis Dermott has 35 pounds on Hollowell. No matter how much coaching it takes to polish Hollowell, he has speed and offensive vision that you just can’t teach. I look at Torey Krug and Jared Spurgeon who weren’t expected to break into the NHL at a young age but just kept playing too well to get sent down.
All things considered it seems like Hollowell is in the best organization to develop him into a premier offensive defenceman, and it’s a matter of just how many other tools he can develop along the way. Once he earns his coaches trust in the defensive zone at the AHL level, Hollowell seems like a guy who gets called up and never goes back. If he can continue to gain the zone and elude checkers at the NHL level he screams 40 point defenceman, if he cannot then Connor Carrick might be a better comparable. That’s still useful, a guy who can break the puck out and use his hockey IQ in the defensive zone, but Hollowell’s skating really makes him more boom or bust.