It’s time that we all had a Justin Holl conversation. It’s not a pleasant one, but one that needs to be had. As of this moment, there’s a case to be made that he’s the 4th best right handed shot defenseman in the organization, and with developing Timothy Liljegren being somewhat of a good idea, Holl could see some time with the Leafs this season.
We’re likely to see some lefties on the right side before we see Holl making his NHL debut, but you could also make the case that the experienced defender offers a no-nonsense style that may appeal to Leafs management and could earn him at least a press box spot or at least sit him near the top of the pecking order for call-ups.

The Votes

Jon Steitzer: 7
Megan Kim: 12
Hayley Hendren: 14
Ryan Hobart: 15
Rest of the Panel: Unranked

Player Bio

Justin Holl took the roundabout way into the Leafs system. The 6’3, 200 lb, right shooting defender was drafted in the 2nd round (54th overall) by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 entry draft. After a full four years at the University of Minnesota, Holl joined the Hawks system and quickly found himself in the ECHL.
After signing an AHL deal with the Marlies for the 2015-16 season, Holl has put together two productive years as the Marlies right hand guy, putting up underwhelming numbers while regularly getting top four minutes on the blueline.

The Stats

The numbers for Holl are interesting to say the least. Not cracking 20 points in the AHL probably drops red flags of “stay at home defenseman” all over the place and when it came to power play, Holl just didn’t see it, which is probably fine. No one should ever have classed Holl that way, the Marlies preferred the four forward model on the power play and with the current options of Rielly, Gardiner, Zaitsev, etc. that isn’t a particular need for the Leafs, simply a nice to have.
When you look at how Holl compares to the other Marlies defenders in 5v5 offensive production, he holds his own. No one was producing anything overly impressive, though when you factor in the estimated time on the ice, Holl’s eP/60 falls off a cliff.
It’s also worth noting that Holl’s GF% was second lowest on the Marlies blueline and his GF%Rel was the third lowest (remember that Olesky’s numbers are both WBS/Marlies). Some of this may be attributed to the amount of ice time that Holl sees, and meaning he’s lining up against better players more regularly, but if he was a shoo-in for an NHL gig, you’d certainly hope for more dominance here.

The Eye Test

Can I just say he looks like Mark Fayne? Maybe Mark Fayne a couple of years ago to make it sound a bit better, but that’s essentially what I get when I watch Holl. What I mean by that is that Holl is a guy who isn’t particularly exceptional, and isn’t really a clear cut NHL talent, but he also plays defense in a way that benefits his team. There are fewer risks of dumb penalties, icing the puck on a panicked play or taking himself out of the play on poor positioning. These are things that can dissolve when taking the next step and if Holl finds himself in over his head, I’ll eat my words.
Where Holl differs from the Fayne comparison is that at the AHL level, he’s more prone to being aggressive on the puck. He’s generally on the puck carrier in his own zone, and while I’m throwing out scouting clichés, he keeps his feet moving at all times (I hate this cliché, but at the same time it’s one of my pet peeves on Martin Marincin.)
Like I’ve said in pretty much every section, he’s not going to be an offensive star, but he’s not a lost puppy out of his own zone either. Having played largely with Andrew Campbell and Andrew Nielsen, he was often second fiddle when it came to point production over his partner.

As Seen on TV

I guess he carries the puck pretty nicely here as he scores a shorthanded goal resembling pretty much every goal I’ve ever scored in the EA NHL series.
Here’s Holl’s triple overtime winner. So clutch.

Next Season

There are two paths for Holl next season. One sees him clearing waivers and returning to the Marlies where he’ll play a key role as a veteran who is helping in the development of players like Andrew Nielsen, Travis Dermott, and possibly Timothy Liljegren. The value of having a capable partner for young defenders in the AHL can’t be understated and if that’s the role that Holl will play, that’s not a bad thing for this organization.
Much more optimistically, Holl manages to stick with the Leafs and gets an opportunity dabble with the third pairing if he establish himself ahead of Rosen, Borgman, and Marincin or the organization gives him some additional consideration because of the way he shoots.
Considering the low risk style to Holl’s game, you’d have to imagine he’d be a favourite of guys like Babcock and Lamoriello who want to have a guy come in and play their system as a replacement player.
An exceptional year for Holl would be him establishing himself as the Leafs 6th defenseman.
A solid year for Holl is getting his shot in the NHL, but ultimately being a regular presence on the Marlies blueline.
A disappointing year for Holl would be if he can’t make a case for the team bringing him back in 2018-19.

Closing Thoughts

From the rankings it’s pretty clear that I’m a bit higher on Holl than most of our writers, especially considering that many of them didn’t rank Holl at all. When it comes to Holl one of the driving factors for me is that he’s as ready for the NHL as he’ll ever be and looking at some of the names on the Leafs prospect list, a lot of time we’re banking on potential over likelihood to get a sniff of the NHL.
At 25, we’re really stretching the definition of prospect to include him and one way or another he won’t be on our prospect list next year, as 26 year olds are no longer Calder eligible and therefore not in our definition of prospect. Holl’s contract is also up at the end of the year, so we will see how that motivates him.

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