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Top 25 Under 25: Mac Hollowell grabs #15 after a great season

It was an overager season for the overages, but will his small speedy skill game be enough to make the NHL one day?

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NHL: SEP 09 NHL Rookie Showdown Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Player

Mac Hollowell is a 20-year-old, right-shooting defenseman who is coming off his first season after being drafted in the 4th round by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is small for a defenseman at 5’10” and 170ish pounds, but not small for the “new age” NHL that Dubas has been leaning hard into for his last two drafts.

Hollowell finished 2nd in the OHL Defenseman of the Year award voting thanks to 24 goals and 77 points in 64 games, and another 11 points in 11 playoff games. He followed that up by being put directly into the Marlies lineup in the playoffs, where he played 9 games and had 1 assist.

His season impressed the Leafs enough to sign him to a three year ELC, and he will presumably resume his professional hockey career next season on the Marlies.

Most importantly, Hollowell has what I can only describe as a 100% genuine ginger mop, and had I realized this before submitting my rankings I would have bumped him up a few spots.

The Votes

Voter Ranking
Voter Ranking
elseldo 18
Arvind 19
Katya 23
Omar 17
Hardev 17
Species 20
Brigstew 17
Fulemin 17
Rahef 18
Emily 17
Will 19
Kevin 18
Gabriel 19
Daniel NR
Helen 18
Jensine 18
Mel 17

It was an impressive season, albeit for an overager. He plays at a position that the Leafs sorely need, and he plays the exact type of game the Leafs seem to want to play. But will that be enough to give him a clear path to the NHL?

The Age Problem

Mac Hollowell will also be turning 21 this September. For comparison, Travis Dermott who we still hope can break into the top 4, is currently 22 and turning 23 in December. When he was 21, he was breaking into the NHL halfway through the season thanks to the big strides he took in the AHL.

In his brief 9 game playoff stint, his big point totals from the OHL didn’t immediately translate. However, Keefe did keep using him while he put guys like Duszak or Lindgren in and out of the playoff lineup.

The same problems for Hollowell exists for a bunch of the young AHL depth defensemen that the Leafs have accumulated. They seem like offensive specialists who can lead a powerplay unit, skate with the puck with speed, make offensive plays, jump into the rush, and all that good stuff. But their defending seems suspect, and there are only two real PP spots for defensemen on an NHL roster these days. Rielly will be the PP1 defensemen for years to come, so there will only be the leftover PP2 minutes for someone like Hollowell to fight for.

That means he’s going to have to either be an effective PKer, or a very good 5 on 5 defenseman that can push play in the right direction. Hollowell hasn’t really given any indication that he’ll be a PKer yet, so he’ll have to excel at even strength.

Why Hollowell Can Do It

All that negative stuff out of the way, here’s a case for why Hollowell can be that guy. Partway through last season, Kevin Papetti had a tweet about the highest single point totals by an OHL defenseman since 2006/07. Hollowell wound up with 1.20 points per game, putting him between the likes of Ryan Wilson, Nic Hague, and Alex Pietrangelo.

So Hollowell certainly seems to offer the potential for offense, but what about the rest of his game? How well can he defend in transition or in his own end?

Well, Scott Wheeler at The Athletic had the chance to interview Hollowell and Ryan Ward, the Greyhounds’ assistant coach:

Hollowell describes himself as a strong-skating, two-way defenceman who is physical for his size and can excel in both ends.

Ward sees the same — and then some. Despite Hollowell’s size, he’s outstanding defensively.

“Mac’s an elite skater, so when you’re giving the other team no room because your gap and your skating is so good, then that translates to being a good defensive player. In D-zone coverage, Mac’s mobility and agility gets him to be able to close his gap and close on guys down low quicker than most D. Regardless of what level you’re playing at, when you’re a defenceman and you’re not giving the opposition any room, you’re going to be good defensively,” Ward said.

That certainly sounds promising, and it touches on the same sort of defensive ability that’s allowed Dermott to make the NHL. It’s one thing to do that in the OHL as a 20 year old, it’s another to do it in the AHL and then in the NHL.

We only have 9 AHL playoff games to assess Hollowell’s ability to do it at a professional level, but there are some positive things to take from it. When Calle Rosen returned to the roster, Hollowell stuck in the lineup and was used along with Rasmus Sandin. When their defense was thin due to injuries, Hollwell is the one that was used in the top 4 along with Sandin and Liljegren.

It helps Hollowell that Keefe knows him from his time in the OHL, so he already has some trust built up. But it’s also a good mark in his favour that he was able to immediately step into the AHL playoffs, get more of a role when asked, and at least look like he could keep up.

What’s Next for Hollowell

This coming season, Hollowell will return to the Marlies where he may again be asked to play top 4 minutes. On the one hand, the path seems clear for him after both Rosen and Borgman were traded away, and LoVerde moved on. On the other hand, the Leafs also signed a lot of other depth defenseman: Teemu Kivihalme was signed out of Finland, Kevin Gravel was signed as a free agent, Ben Harpur was acquired in the Zaitsev trade, and there are the returning Jesper Lindgren and Joseph Duszak.

Sandin and Liljegren are locks at the top of the Marlies’ blueline for ice time both at even strength and on the powerplay.

On the right side, Hollowell will be fighting for the 2nd pair role with Lindgren, Duszak, and a guy named Ryan Johnston who also signed as a free agent after two years in Europe. Hollowell already seemed to have the trust over Lindgren and Duszak, so the unknown is Johnston. At 27 years old, and with some NHL experience with Montreal, Johnston is old enough to not be a prospect anymore, but might be the replacement for LoVerde.

So if Hollowell wants to show that he can be an effective third pair defender in the NHL, he’s going to have to start by winning that role over Johnston who has already proven he can’t be that.

So that’s the path to the NHL for Hollowell. First, has to show he’s behind only Liljegren on their depth chart at RD. If or when Liljegren makes the jump to the NHL, Hollowell should have established himself as the next best RD on the Marlies. He has to take big steps in his all-round game as a defenseman at even strength, and maybe even turn into a capable penalty killer.

Here’s What We Thought

Katya is pessimistic about Hollowell, but more positive about him than the other younger AHL depth on the Marlies now.

Katya: Hollowell won the three-way race against Joey Duszak and Jesper Lindgren for me, but I ranked him 23, mixed in with Ian Scott and Joe Woll, but much lower than most people had them. They’re all clearly AHL-capable. Hollowell impressed by walking out of junior into the AHL like he should have been there for years, and he should have, in a just system, but I’m not convinced any of them will blossom into more than they appear to be right now, which is AHL-level players.

Fulemin says the same sort of thing, but sounds a bit higher on Hollowell’s chances:

Fulemin: Mac Hollowell was where I started to really feel how shallow the Leafs’ prospect pool is. I liked him at first, looked a little deeper and thought I was overrating him, and then as I looked around I didn’t really have anywhere to drop him to, because there weren’t enough players to move ahead of him. All that said, he did torch the OHL in his overage year, I think he will be a perfectly competent AHL RHD this season at age 21, and those things are very neat. He’s ahead of Lindgren and Duszak by a decent amount on my rankings primarily because he’s a year and a half younger than they are and he’s in about the same developmental spot.

Daniel Hackett touches on the same theme of Hollowell being stuck in the same mix as several other guys who need to distinguish themselves.

Daniel: I left Hollowell unranked (barely), but I don’t have anything in particular against him. He has a shot to be a decent defenceman, he can certainly put up points in the OHL, though didn’t do much in his very short stint with the Marlies. He’s just pretty far down the list of the current stock of defensive prospects the team has, IMO, and seems to have a pretty long path to making the team with a few too many better options in front of or alongside him as a prospect right now, even on the right side - a couple of whom also didn’t quite make my list. Just a log jam.

Kevin with maybe a bit of a rosier take, but focuses more on his past season and how he fared in the AHL:

Kevin: Hollowell is a right-shooting defenceman who can really skate. He just scored 88 points in 75 OHL games between the regular season and playoffs, and had no problem keeping up in his AHL stint. He’s tiny, and it’s not too uncommon to put up big numbers as an OHL overager, but right-shooting defenceman who move well tend to do well in their team’s prospect rankings. He should play a bigger role with the Marlies this year, and will be looking to prove that he can be a high-end puck mover at the professional level.

Mac Hollowell Video & Highlights

Poll

Which young Marlies RD do you think has the best chance of making the NHL?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Mac Hollowell
    (446 votes)
  • 13%
    Jesper Lindgren
    (95 votes)
  • 7%
    Joey Duszak
    (54 votes)
  • 16%
    None of them
    (117 votes)
712 votes total Vote Now