Pontus Holmberg was drafted in 2018, but it wasn’t until two months ago that he officially became a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, signing his entry level contract on June 4th.
The deal was signed weeks after Holmberg and Växjö Lakers won the Swedish Hockey League championship, and Holmberg was named playoff MVP after he scored 7 goals and 7 assists in the 14 games it took to win the Le Mat Trophy.
Bouncing from 18th to 25th and back to 20th on this list isn’t too odd for player movements, especially ones who play in Europe; out of sight, out of mind. Our thoughts on him in the winter 2020 Top 25 weren’t critical, but weren’t amazed by him either. Brigstew called him “Swedish Zach Hyman”, Fulemin said “He will excite no one but his coaches; he will disappoint no one with his effort.” In the summer of 2020 he was an exciting project for the Maple Leafs, already being two years post-draft and still playing in the SHL. With his commitment to returning to Växjö, and the Maple Leafs agreeing to loan him for the season, could we see him fall back to the bottom of the list?
Our excitement for him hasn’t changed much; that is to say there isn’t a lot of it:
Brigstew: I had him ranked about where everyone else did — late teens/early twenties. He doesn’t necessarily have a lot of talent, but does seem like a workhorse. There may not be enough there for him to make the NHL or be anything but a fourth line winger or center that PKs and gets just under 10 minutes per game. But I just like how he plays, and it will be interesting to see if he comes over to the Marlies later this year and how he does.
Katya: The cynic in me thinks the Maple Leafs gave Holmberg an ELC because they wanted a good news story post-playoffs, and they had no one else to sign. The fan of Holmberg’s “yes he can play hockey” style in me thinks he’s an outside chance at an Adam Brooks type tweener role. He’ll play in Sweden again, and we’ll see what he is when he joins the Marlies, but role players in the SHL rarely make the NHL.
Hardev: He’s higher on my list than last year because he’s a good SHLer who has useful skills in the NHL in the bottom six. He’s also older and closer to the NHL than before. Whether he actually makes it there or gets stuck in the AHL is undecided, but his style of play makes it easier for a coach to put him in the lineup. In other news, I really miss Filip Hallander.
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I ranked him at 19 partially because I remembered his name from other seasons, and partially because someone had to go there. A team built to win now doesn’t give you a lot to work with on the farm.
So, will Holmberg become a Maple Leaf? There’s a chance he’ll get a shot in year two of his ELC, the Leafs would like to see him come to North America, and his work on the Marlies after the SHL season and possibly in 2022/23 will be his chance to show he should stay in the Leafs system. He’s worked his way up through the line up, and from the 19/20 season to the 20/21 season, he’s gone from scoring every third game (17pts in 52 games, .33pt/g) to every other game (23pts in 45 games .5pt/g).
The SHL pre-season is already underway, and the Lakers have defeated Linköping 2-0, lost to Frölunda 5-1, and lost to Malmö 2-1. Holmberg set up Hugo Gustafsson for the only goal in the loss to Frölunda, and he scored against Linköping. Växjö is also starting Champions Hockey League play soon, playing their first game against Sparta Prague on August 27th. Some of the games will be on TSN / TSN Go and others will be available through the CHL app.
So we’ll end this Top 25 entry as we always do, with some highlights.