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TLN Top 20 Leafs #12: Justin Holl

A fun fact about Justin Holl is that he is one of the most likable guys on the Leafs, and nobody really knew until the league shut down and he started hosting weekly virtual Leaf to Leaf segments on Instagram live. As someone who prides herself on knowing the players’ personalities, I was disappointed in myself for not knowing this sooner but delighted to learn about it.

But being a lovely and entertaining human off the ice does not always translate to on-ice success. And Justin Holl has swung from everyone’s hero (shutting down Connor McDavid) to everyone’s scapegoat. What do we know about Holl on the ice? Well. We know that he has improved season after season, and has put in the work to move up the Leafs lineup and played heavy minutes in a shutdown pairing with Jake Muzzin last season.

TLN staff are also divided on Justin Holl, and while he ended up at number 12, he ranked anywhere from 9th to not even ranked by one member of the team. He had some highlight reel moments last season, and some major blunders, but overall he showed improvement over the prior season. In the 2021-2022 season should we expect for consistent solidness on the ice, or will we be subject to a wildly variable player?

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Five important stats

Season Age Tm Lg GP G A Pts  
2017-18 26 TOR NHL 2 2 0 2
2018-19 27 TOR NHL 11 0 1 2
2019-20 28 TOR NHL 68 2 16 18
2020-21 29 TOR NHL 55 2 18 20

These stats are pretty straightforward, but why do I think they’re important to share? Because as mentioned, Justin Holl is a player who has improved and progressed season after season. In 2020-21, with 13 fewer games than the previous season, Justin Holl had more points, more assists, and the same number of goals. While these numbers don’t speak to his shutdown capabilities, they do showcase the role he plays when paired with a true shutdown player like Muzzin.

Now, in case anyone was wondering about Holl’s shutdown capabilities specifically, I borrowed the stats below from THIS GREAT ARTICLE by Michael on Holl vs. McDavid.

MCDAVID’S CF% WITH HOLL 55.22
MCDAVID’S CF% AWAY FROM HOLL 60.47
MCDAVID’S FF% WITH HOLL 46.94
MCDAVID’S FF% AWAY FROM HOLL 60.42
MCDAVID’S SF% WITH HOLL 47.50
MCDAVID’S SF% AWAY FROM HOLL 61.33
MCDAVID’S XGF% WITH HOLL 46.31
MCDAVID’S XGF% AWAY FROM HOLL 60.28
MCDAVID’S SCF% WITH HOLL 51.52
MCDAVID’S SCF% AWAY FROM HOLL 60.87
MCDAVID’S HDCF% WITH HOLL 56.25
MCDAVID’S HDCF% AWAY FROM HOLL 65.38

What happened last season?

Well, Justin Holl shutdown Connor McDavid a couple times and Leafs Twitter went wild. He also scored the OT GWG against the Senators that one time.

But what really happened last season is that Justin Holl was decent, with some really great plays and some really poor plays. He seems to partner well with Muzzin, and after a couple seasons they’re definitely learning each other. He started last season strong, but by February or so he started to show some decline and some sloppiness, and the early season high of Leafs fans who had decided he was the best thing since sliced bread was fading.

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And then, he was fairly quiet in the postseason, save for a few blocks and hits and even fewer takeaways. So while Holl established himself as a decent second pair RHD, he hasn’t yet shown that he has much beyond that. It’s possible he’s reached his ceiling. There was lots of chatter about him going to Seattle in the expansion draft, but Holl remains a Leaf.

What can we expect in 2021-22?

Best case scenario: Justin Holl continues his trend of improving season after season, continues to build on his chemistry with Muzzin, and stats the season off strongly without the regression of last season. The top 4 defenseman on the Leafs roster look pretty solid on paper, with Holl as the main potential weak link of the bunch. If he shows just a bit of growth and can maintain it longer than last season, and he shows up a bit more in the (potential) postseason – that will be good for the Leafs.

Worst case scenario: His age catches up to him, and he starts to show decline earlier. He’s turning 30 this year, which is ancient in the NHL. However, Jake Muzzin and TJ Brodie are both 30+ and continue to succeed, so there’s hope for Holl yet.

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The trends indicate that Holl is a player who develops consistently each season, and so with our fingers crossed we can cautiously hope for the best Justin Holl so far.

Highlights

There’s only one option here, and it’s Holl owning McDavid.

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There isn’t much to say here that hasn’t already been said. Whatever else he is, Justin Holl is good at playing against Connor McDavid, and that is not something many defenseman can say. If Holl could do this every game, against every forward, he’d be one of the top D in the league.

Even though that’s not the case, and this matchup seems to be some fluke thing, it’s super fun to watch and gloat about as Leafs fans. Now – with Zach Hyman on McDavid’s wing this season, will that change things at all for the McDavid/Holl matchup? Time will tell.

Justin Holl’s goal song would be…

This was Holl’s karaoke song choice, so it seems only fitting that it should be his goal song.

However, if I was choosing for him – it would be: