Why Pontus Holmberg is the depth option the Toronto Maple Leafs should revisit

Photo credit:Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
Right now, a lot of the focus around Leafs land is on bringing Ryan O’Reilly back into the lineup and finding the proper fit for him. While the Leafs are doing that, there’s another bottom six centre the Leafs should consider bringing back into their lineup: Pontus Holmberg.
Holmberg has spent most of March and much of February in the AHL. A big part of this decision was driven by the fact that he doesn’t require waivers and as the Leafs attempted to juice their roster at the trade deadline, Holmberg was the easy choice for the demotion. There is also the small matter of Holmberg going pointless in February, and combined with his one game recall in March, he doesn’t have a point in his past five games with the Leafs. Points aren’t the reason you play Holmberg, but still, it doesn’t help his case for bringing him back into the Leafs roster.
The other thing that hasn’t helped Holmberg’s case is his performance with the Marlies. In his 33 games with the Marlies this season, Holmberg has accumulated just 19 points. That isn’t bad, it just doesn’t jump off the page either, especially when he is used in more offensive situations in the AHL.
Understandably the Leafs have wanted to get a look at several other players as well. Some have gone well like Bobby McMann and Radim Zohorna, others haven’t resulted in a standout performance, and with McMann hurt it seems like Pontus Holmberg should be back at the front of the list not only as one of the better Marlies callup options, but ahead of some of the other bottom six players presently on the Leafs roster.
Holmberg still sits 14th on the current Leafs roster in scoring, 10th amongst forwards, so if you assume that someone like Ryan O’Reilly will quickly pass him, Holmberg is still one of the better offensive options of the group. He scored at a better pace as a Leaf than either Sam Lafferty or Noel Acciari have since they joined the team, and on a point per game level, he’s ahead of David Kampf and close to the production of Alex Kerfoot this season which is probably more of a criticism of Kerfoot than it is a praise of Holmberg. Lafferty who came to the Leafs as a .41 point per game player has slid to a .35 ppg as a result of his drought in Toronto. His new total mirrors Holmberg’s totals that were largely put up in third and fourth line situations. The point is that for a team that has struggled to find some bottom six production, Holmberg has the potential to address that.
5v5 Scoring Rates:
PlayerGPTOI/GPGoals/60First Assists/60Points/60
Mitchell Marner7514.300.781.512.85
Auston Matthews6915.471.351.072.75
William Nylander7613.781.150.742.64
Calle Jarnkrok6911.121.330.472.35
John Tavares7513.330.960.662.22
Ryan O’Reilly813.601.100.552.21
Michael Bunting7613.570.810.872.04
Pontus Holmberg379.720.671.002.00
Alexander Kerfoot7611.920.330.661.52
David Kampf7612.190.450.391.36
Sam Lafferty1611.080.340.341.02
Wayne Simmonds177.270.000.490.97
Zach Aston-Reese719.870.680.090.94
Noel Acciari1711.630.610.000.61
Bobby McMann1010.330.000.000.58
Of course, when it comes to Lafferty and Acciari comparisons there is one major difference and that is Acciari and Lafferty hit more. The biggest knock on Holmberg might be that he had just 24 hits in 37 games while Lafferty has reached that number as a Leaf in just 16 games. Noel Acciari isn’t part of this conversation as he hits more than pretty much anyone on the Leafs roster not named Luke Schenn and his spot in the Leafs lineup is entirely based on his health, not his performance to date. Holmberg is more about offering something that might be needed more than Zach Aston-Reese and Sam Lafferty have brought or an alternative to throwing Matthew Knies to the wolves, and what Holmberg brings is a lot of balance in his game.
5v5 Grit Stats:
PlayerGiveaways/60Takeaways/60Hits/60Shots Blocked/60
Wayne Simmonds01.4619.413.4
Noel Acciari1.212.4317.33.34
Zach Aston-Reese0.861.2812.673.17
Bobby McMann1.161.169.870
Sam Lafferty3.050.687.793.05
John Tavares2.582.2861.8
David Kampf1.682.44.341.36
Michael Bunting2.
Pontus Holmberg1.51.1743
Auston Matthews2.143.23.884.5
Calle Jarnkrok0.781.173.281.17
Alexander Kerfoot2.
Mitchell Marner3.473.972.631.57
Ryan O’Reilly0.551.651.651.1
William Nylander1.553.320.971.32
The thing with Holmberg is that nothing he has done so far makes him a standout. He’s just been a consistent, solid bottom six option, and that might be the selling point on him rather than some of the other bottom six players. He’s not an agent of chaos, he’s more of a calm, stabilizing presence and that could especially be helpful on a fourth line that leans into Acciari punishing opponents, or if O’Reilly is the top six, gives the Leafs a trustworthy centre option on the fourth line while Kampf handles the 3C duties.
5v5 On Ice Rates
So what else does Holmberg bring beyond the numbers? Holmberg has some speed to his game and putting him with other strong skating bottom sixers like Lafferty might have an advantage. He is a former playoff MVP in the SHL, so there is some hope that he can raise his game on the biggest stage. And of course, there’s something to be said for centre depth. Something the Leafs have a lot of already with Acciari, Lafferty, and O’Reilly coming in. Holmberg might not be the best Game One option, but as the Leafs learn what is and isn’t working against the Lightning he could be an important resource to have around. Given the fact that the Marlies will also be starting their playoffs at the same time as the Leafs, he might not be a black ace in the NHL, but Toronto shouldn’t be afraid to call upon him and he is certainly worth giving another look to in the NHL in the remaining games of the six games of the season.
Data sourced from Natural Stat Trick

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