Pontus Holmberg finished his amazing run during the SHL playoffs today, scoring twice and adding an assist to help the Växjö Lakers win the championship. He was named MVP of the whole playoffs for having the most goals (7), assists (7), and points (14) in their 14 game run.

If you’re reading this and saying, “who?”, it’s not entirely your fault. The Maple Leafs drafted Pontus Holmberg out of Sweden in the 6th round back in 2018. As is common from picks that late in the draft, most everyone probably said “who?” after it was announced. Most people probably also said the same thing whenever his name was mentioned for the next couple of years. In fact, in the most recent T25U25 series that we ran here in December 2020 the community vote had him 24th.

So he never really had a lot of public hype about him, despite being a bit of a favourite among us at PPP here. After being drafted in 2018, he had the following point totals in the SHL:

  • D+1: 10 points in 47 regular season games, and 0 points in 7 playoff games.
  • D+2: 17 points in 52 regular season games, no playoff games due to COVID.
  • D+3 (this year): 23 points in 45 games, then 14 points in 14 playoff games./

So he wasn’t exactly an offensive dynamo, but he was getting regular minutes in the SHL, even in his D+1 year. That’s an achievement in and of itself, and younger players rarely put up big point totals there — if they’re that good, they’re first round picks. He did show some steady improvement, but what he had going for him was being that kind of glue player. He’s a guy who helps his line and team be more effective, but isn’t the one racking up the points.

In the last full-T25 series we ran, Katya had this to say:

The ranking for Holmberg might be the biggest surprise to me in this T25. There’s things higher up I’ll dispute, but I’m not sure I get how my sentimental favourite ranked so high. However, he is one of those tough to evaluate players. He plays hockey extremely well and cannot, at all, in any way, score goals to save his life. He makes Zach Hyman (who he resembles a lot in other ways) look like he’s got hot hands. In Holmberg’s defence he has played on a team so offensively challenged while using Viktor Fasth as their starter that anyone might look like a little less than gifted in that situation. He can third line grind. He can fourth line grind. He gets played on the top line when the coach wants an example of hard work. And if he had half of even Pierre Engvall’s scoring touch… I don’t know, maybe he’ll surprise us. And it’s not like his ranking is high, but he’ll be an unusual success story if he becomes one.

What changed for Holmberg? He appeared to get a better chance higher in the lineup, averaging more than 16 minutes this regular season and through the playoffs, where before his career best was just over 13 minutes per game. He was also used on Växjö’s powerplay, which certainly helped.

If you look up highlights of his goals these playoffs, you’re not seeing a lot dynamic skill. No crazy snipes, dangles, or any of that. What you are seeing is him being in the right place, at the right time, and picking up the dirty rebound goals, like this:

The Leafs have had some surprising success in the late rounds drafting from Sweden — Andreas Johnsson and Pierre Engvall, mainly. Holmberg may not have the skill of the former or size of the latter, but he may wind up being a bit of a poor man’s Zach Hyman at his very best.

Holmberg is currently unsigned by the Leafs, so it will be interesting to see if there’s any news about that now that his successful season is over.

We can certainly enjoy this in the moment, but if we’re already penciling him on the Leafs’ third line in the not so distant future, I have two words of caution:

Axel Holmström.

Who is that, you ask? Exactly, I say.

Should the Leafs sign the Swedish Zach Hyman to an ELC?

Yes, since the Leafs won’t be able to afford Hyman in free agency463
No, because he’s not a small or zippy enough winger for my refined taste67