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One of the more debated areas of our annual rankings comes when we look at players who have gotten into a handful of NHL games, but haven't yet stuck in a full time role. It's especially difficult when dealing with a player who is not a clear cut, high end prospect who just got their first taste of the NHL.
|Age as of July 1||24.31|
Pontus Holmberg certainly fits this type of player. He also only came to the AHL full time this past season, so most people haven't really seen him a lot until now. And while he did have a nice run in the NHL as a bottom six guy, he found himself back in the AHL to finish the season.
That was enough to land Holmberg pretty high on this year's rankings, likely because he's one of only a few players who the voters think can at least play a regular NHL role... even if that role tops out as a fourth line guy.
Pontus Holmberg is an average sized (6'0") center/winger. He was drafted in the 6th round in 2018 as a D+1 overager. His 1999 birthday makes him one of the oldest eligible players on this year's series – in fact, at 24 years old he will age out of eligibility for next year's T25U25 vote.
There were many reasons to not think much of him over the years. In his draft year, where he was a year older than most prospects, he only just got a taste of pro hockey in Sweden... and it was in their third tier pro league. But he did also play for Team Sweden for the first time internationally, and did well for them with his similarly aged peers (6 points in 4 games).
In what would normally be his D+2 season, he played a depth role in the SHL and had 10 points in 47 games. He played even more for Sweden, including at the World Juniors, though it was again in a depth role and he had no points in 5 games.
But Holmberg's point totals and role would grow every year, and by the end of it he was nearly a point per game player and the top line center for his SHL Championship winning team. He won playoff MVP with 14 points in 14 games. He even played for Team Sweden in the pandemic-edition of the Olympics in his final season still playing in Europe.
Last year, Holmberg made the jump to North America full time. He started with the Marlies, and got a mid-season call up to the Maple Leafs. He did well for himself considering everything, playing 37 games for the Leafs and putting up 13 points in a depth role. But when the trade deadline came and went, Holmberg didn't keep a roster spot as Toronto tried to load up for a Cup run. He finished with 22 points in 38 games for the Marlies, and added 6 goals and 8 points in 7 playoff games.
As a player, Holmberg is of a type that Toronto fans should be familiar with by now – especially for later round picks. He doesn't flash any real high-end skill, but he has that "hockey smarts" and works hard. He is very much perfectly suited to a depth, supporting role. He's not good at faceoffs to make him seem like a depth center in the long run, but he can fill in for that spot in a pinch. He is not a super defensive forward like Kampf or Aston-Reese, but he does well as a good, two-way and play-driving forward – the jury is out if he can manage that in the NHL though.
Offensively, he can make the simple passes he needs to make but will not break defenses down to create offensive opportunities. He's not an elite skater but he can get around just fine and is decently agile. His best offensive weapon that I've seen has been an underrated shot, though like everything else it is not elite either. He gets his offense by being in the right place at the right time, and making quick and simple plays when the puck gets on his stick. Holding onto it for long is not his strength.
I ranked Holmberg 8th, so well within range of 7th. 8th is the worst ranking he got, but I was one of four others who ranked him there. Cathy was the highest on him, ranking him 4th. For me, he's in that weird spot where he could be a regular NHLer but not a very good one. He gets a higher ranking than others of his type because he's had a good stretch in the NHL, unlike younger prospects. But I'm not 100% sold he's not just an AHL-NHL tweener, even if I'm sure he's leaning more on the NHL side of that.
Here's where the others ranked him:
Here's what the other voters had to say:
dhammm: I was worried Pontus Holmberg would need a season or two to acclimate to North American hockey and to get even a chance on the Leafs, and that the Leafs' tendency to stack up min-salary bodies ahead of hopeful Marlies would box him out of playing NHL games no matter what he did. My worry was that after a couple years of forced "seasoning" Holmberg wouldn't be much of a prospect but instead just a 26-year-old NHL/AHL tweener. Instead, he made Keefe gasp "no mistakes" and seemed like a solid bottom-six player with great instincts for the game. He could still top out in that tweener range, but right now he's a good bet to make the team out of training camp or be first in line for a call-up.
Cathy: You should all know by now that I really like Holmberg. I always like players without the fancy skills who bend their brains to the game anyway and find a role. The sheer level of effort and concentration they have to put into the game for league minimum on a two-way compared to the “took the second off, made a nifty play for the game-winning goal in the third” types (not mentioning any names) is inspiring to me. So now a little real talk: His NHL results were not very good. They aren’t dreadful. He’s not flaming out, but he isn’t adding a lot of value. It remains to be seen how he will be used, but he is capable of a certain sort of game, and he needs linemates that play their part, and well, Reaves.
Catch-67: Pontus! He came in with a bang last season and made the most of his first few games in the NHL, but his play really took a downtown in his latter NHL games. He’s certainly got the smarts and work ethic to be a longterm fixture of this team’s bottom six, and frankly he seemed to show more offensive skills than I expected during his time in the NHL last season, but I’m still not sure if Holmberg will improve enough at this point to actually be that stable bottom-six NHLer I’m imagining. Kampf the second or KAAAAmpf the second?
Hardev: Holmberg is definitely in the "guy" range now for NHLers and AHL tweeners. He's played in the NHL for a not-insignificant amount of time and he did well as the 4C in every area except faceoffs. Is winning draws (or at least not getting killed in them) a learned skill? I'd assume so. Let's see what he can do in the preseason and whether he'll get replaced for next year's playoffs or not. He's worked his ass off to get here already, it's not unreasonable to assume he'll get through this hurdle, too. He's got that farm boy attitude in him.
That's what we all think, and now it's your turn! What are your thoughts on Holmberg's NHL stretch where fans seemed to like him and he had some points, but not great play-driving numbers?
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