Pontus Holmberg: Sheldon Keefe’s latest ‘Swedish Army Knife’

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
I’m not even sure if Calle Jarnkrok had hit the LTIR before he had lost his moniker to Pontus Holmberg. Holmberg seems to be the next in the line of “any line, any position” players that Sheldon Keefe relies on in order to keep the majority of his lineup card intact while working through injuries, slumps, and suspensions. In the short time that Holmberg has been back with the Leafs he has seen time as a top line left wing and last night his duty was as the fourth line centre. For a young player like Holmberg, being able to hold a spot by seemingly fitting in everywhere seems like a huge win but comes with the question, is it better for the Leafs and Holmberg if he finds a permanent spot in the lineup to establish himself?
Let’s take a look at who Holmberg has played with the most in his time with the Leafs this season:
The fourth line utilization being the highest and having the least appealing numbers probably comes with little surprise. And given the high praise from Matthews and Marner for Holmberg, his time being higher with them isn’t much of a surprise either. What did standout was the amount of time that Holmberg has spent with Max Domi and while it was higher event hockey than we’ve seen from Holmberg with other players, Holmberg has the potential to make a Domi line one that requires a little less sheltering, the numbers also reflect in Holmberg’s limited time with Nick Robertson and that trio could be a strong option to put out against the opposition’s bottom six forwards.
The time with John Tavares and Matthew Knies probably puts a halt on the likelihood we see Holmberg with either of those two players with any frequency, but both Bertuzzi and Steeves with Holmberg seem like they’d be worth an additional look. Steeves isn’t likely to stick around the Leafs for too long at the moment, but save for their line being scored against, the duo was impressive, and with Bertuzzi, Holmberg looks like the Leafs could be forming a strong shot suppression group that might be worth attaching David Kampf to in the near future, creating a hard to play against third line.
The other side of the story is who has Holmberg been going up against:
The reality on Holmberg is that he is still very much a bottom six player who is meant to play against other bottom six players. There is some real talent in his game but other than some chemistry with Matthews and Marner that might be worth revisiting from time to time, Holmberg deserves the opportunity to grow as a bottom six forward, potentially one that can contribute some secondary offence as well as play responsible hockey.
Within that bottom six capacity there is still a need to find what is the best fit for Holmberg. Ultimately, he might wind up being a centreman, but right now that seems like it would be pigeonholing Holmberg to 4th line duties. Holmberg definitely seems capable of playing on the third line and while that could be in the middle, easing him in on the wing also makes a lot of sense.
Holmberg’s history of playoff success in the SHL and AHL shouldn’t be forgotten, and he has the history of showing up when needed the most. The Leafs playing Holmberg now in situations they’d envision using him in the playoffs would make a ton of sense. While a bit of a pipedream, working towards a potential 3rd line of Bertuzzi-Holmberg-Jarnkrok come playoff time seems it has a legitimate chance to create secondary offence while being responsible defensively too and it would mirror the way that Holmberg was frequently used with the Marlies, in providing a strong two-way line.
The Leafs have limited resources to make changes heading into the trade deadline and there might be minimal interest in making those changes as well. Embracing players like Holmberg who have a chance to claim a regular spot in the Leafs roster makes a lot of sense and gives the organization more flexibility for their more pressing needs. What doesn’t seem like a fair opportunity is regularly putting Holmberg with Ryan Reaves, as Holmberg has already proven he can do more.
Data sourced from PuckIQ and Natural Stat Trick.

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