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Pontus Holmberg has a bright future on both sides of the puck

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Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
12 days ago
As our year in review continues, it’s time to turn our attention to Pontus Holmberg. A former sixth-round pick, Holmberg solidified his place in the Maple Leafs lineup during the 2023-24 season.
Holmberg managed to carve out a bottom-six role down the middle and with the Leafs battling the injury bug throughout the season, there were times where Holmberg made his way up the lineup and onto the wing of the top two lines. The 25-year-old should be a consistent staple in Toronto’s lineup. This goal from February against the Vegas Golden Knights was a perfect example of what Holmberg can bring to the table.
Holmberg finished the 2023-24 campaign with seven goals and 17 points in 54 games. It took until January for his NHL season to take flight — much like Nick Robertson, Holmberg was stuck in a numbers game to start the season. Both forwards were eligible to be demoted to the AHL without having to clear waivers, which unfortunately for Holmberg, often made the decision easy for management.
The 25-year-old is looking to avoid the same situation to start next season and in order to evaluate his impact, it’s important to look past just the scoresheet. His game is much more than offense and is very much defensive driven. The sophomore took a much bigger role among the penalty-kill units and saw a 51 second increase in time played shorthanded than his first season. He’s strong on pucks, has an active stick, and he’s not afraid to lay the body, with 51 hits in 54 games. The Swedish forward always seems to be on ‘the right’ side of the puck. If the Maple Leafs eventually create a shut-down line for playoff time, Holmberg could be a massive part of the trio.
Although he’s a defensive-focused forward, it’s not hard to understate Holmberg’s offensive abilities and creativity. Mitch Marner called Holmberg one of his favourite players in the league and was super impressed with the skill level on this one-handed beauty against the San Jose Sharks.
With Auston Matthews and John Tavares down the middle on the first two lines, Holmberg saw most of his even-strength ice-time as either the nominal third or fourth line centre. Holding a $800,000 cap hit, it’s good value for Brad Treliving, who signed Holmberg to a two-year extension nearly immediately after becoming GM. It was obvious that the organization still believed in Holmberg’s development and after a strong season, the trust level should be going through the roof heading into 2024-25.

Holmberg Will Build Off Strong World Championships

While it was disappointing the Maple Leafs didn’t make it further in the playoffs, it did give Holmberg a chance to build off his sophomore season and represent Sweden at the IIHF World Championships.
Holmberg finished the tournament with six assists, good for third on the team, and spent most of the tournament centering the second line alongside Andre Burakovsky and Marcus Johansson. Daily Faceoff’s Steven Ellis was very impressed with Holmberg’s ability to stay in the play, facilitate, and show off a relentless backcheck. He’s a player that loves to outwork his opponents, which serve him very well under new head coach Craig Berube.
Holmberg’s hockey sense may be his biggest attribute. He was able to showcase a bit more of his offensive prowess with Sweden and had a bit more freedom to create than he’s experienced under Sheldon Keefe. With an expected checking role under Craig Berube, he’ll have to lean on being tough to play against, staying on pucks, finding passing lanes first and foremost, and then when he sees fit, chip in with creating offense and opportunities for his teammates. He has the total package and look for him to try and showcase the entire tool box on a more consistent basis next season.

Holmberg Will Need a Strong Camp to Impress New Coach

With Berube getting to know each of his players this summer, it’s going to be vital for Holmberg to make an impression early on during training camp and into preseason action.
Toronto at the moment appears set to have Matthews and Tavares down the middle, with Holmberg, Kampf, Connor Dewar and prospect Fraser Minten vying for the remaining centre positions. There’s certainly a chance Treliving makes a trade to shuffle up the forward group, with a major emphasis on improving the defensive core and goaltending depth, so a lot admittedly could change before training camp., As it stands now, Holmberg could once again find himself in a numbers game.
Holmberg’s cap hit certainly is favourable to the Maple Leafs. The only thing to consider is Treliving signed Kampf to a multi-year extension last summer with a modified no-trade clause, so it will be interesting to see how everything shakes out this offseason.
Given Holmberg’s cap hit, his development, and the fact he’s a pending restricted free-agent after next season, he doesn’t appear to be a likely trade candidate. There’s a lot to like about his game on both sides of the puck, and with a very intense head coach stepping in who loves hard-working, relentless forwards, Berube and Holmberg seem like a match made in heaven.
If Berube is able to get the best out of Holmberg, he could very well become one of the most effective bottom-six forwards in the league.

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