Mac Hollowell has seemingly fallen seven spots between his transition as a 20-year-old in the OHL to a 21-year-old in the ECHL/AHL. Hollowell is still a young prospect and going through the process of becoming a pro hockey player.
His first season directly in the Leafs system saw him play top-four minutes with the Newfoundland Growlers for half a season before moving up to the Toronto Marlies in the second half to play with Kristians Rubins and the thankfully departed Ben Harpur.
Hollowell is one of the oldest players in his draft year, born September 21st, 1998. He’s going to be 22 when next season starts (whenever next season starts) and he’s immediately going to have a ticking clock thrown at him. For a player who hasn’t even played a full season in the AHL, these timelines are seemingly unrelenting.
Votes - Mac Hollowell
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A lot of people, including myself, have been boxing him in with fellow RD prospects Jesper Lindgren and Joseph Duszak. Which is fair in some sense, they were all rookies in the AHL this year and are essentially fighting for the same spot on the team (first-pair right-side with a shot at the NHL), but each of them are going about it different ways. Hollowell isn’t just a shorter, younger version of the others, there are unique aspects to each of their games that they’ll need to polish for them to shine. In this article, I’ll talk about what Hollowell has and what he can acquire in order to shine brighter than the other Marlies around him.
Top 25 under 25: Jesper Lindgren arrives at #24
In the OHL, Hollowell absolutely was a smooth skating beast in transition. He has great vision, speed, and agility that made him so hard to catch in junior. We didn’t get very much of this out of him in the AHL as the level of competition increased — though I did see flashes in the ECHL. Hollowell’s shown that he’s a creative player who knows how to create space for himself and his teammates, and is very capable in transition and in the offensive zone.
Just watch this goal. He jumped around a defenseman, retrieved the puck and sent a seeing-eye pass through the middle of the ice before staying in the area and banging the puck home for a goal.
Kevin speaks about this in his comment on Hollowell later in the article, noting he saw a lack of confidence in the rookie. I agree with this evaluation. I don’t think Hollowell got overwhelmed by the competition so much as he physically needs to mature in order to meet the size and closer battles in the AHL. Now that he has half a season in each league under his belt, I think he’ll be able to carry that knowledge forward into his second season when he’ll likely be a full-time player in the top-six.
In my view, I like it more when forwards have the puck in the offensive zone rather than defensemen. Usually those forwards are closer to the net and can risk more as they’re most likely the first line of offense rather than the first line of defense. Plus, shots from the point are much less valuable than shots from closer in, even from tougher angles.
If I did need to have a defenseman handle the puck, Hollowell is a guy I wouldn’t mind doing that job. He’s a good distributor of the puck and moves really well in the top of the zone. He’s really got a knack at opening lanes and creating opportunities for shots from better areas.
Whenever he jumps up into the rush, I do notice that he makes sure his back is covered before going in. He was very selective when he chose to extend himself, and when he did, you sometimes saw that flash of talent. For example on this goal, he just took the spot of the centre. He didn’t ask for permission, he just saw the opening and played the role and got a goal out of it. The more we see this out of Hollowell the more excited we should be.
In terms of production, Hollowell was 10th in shots per game out of the 11 Marlies defensemen who had enough games played, between Rubins and Lindgren, who also only had about one shot per game. He had an elevated shooting percentage, scoring on 8.8% of his shots (double anyone else on the list), but his assist rate was right in the middle of the group in a healthy spot.
And just to show you what doubled shooting percentage looks like, it’s this goal. Hollowell moves well to get himself open, but there was a lot of luck involved in that puck going in. As a result, instead of shooting two goals on 34 shots (5.9%), he has three goals and a three percent higher shooting rate.
While getting to know Hollowell on the ice, the one thing I didn’t expect to see was his resilience and edge while defending and fighting for pucks. At his size and weight, he could very easily get thrown around the ice — which does happen — but he’ll still go at every player as if he’s Trevor Moore on Zdeno Chara in the playoffs. He’s got that heart and that fight in him that I often found exhilarating and a breath of fresh air. The Marlies didn’t have much fight in them last season, so you can understand why I was starved for it.
I remember when Leafs fans realized that Connor Carrick was a mean, side-swiping, loud mouth prick on the ice behind the intimidating frame on the outside. I remember when Kasperi Kapanen and Nazem Kadri revealed those sides to themselves. It made them better, it made the team better, and it made hockey more fun to watch. I can see this in Mac Hollowell, even though he looks like a cute little kid.
When it comes to a hockey player, I don’t like when being an asshole is their primary calling card. You need to be able to back up what you say or you’ll be that Sens guy who Auston Matthews still doesn’t know the name of. But having it as a nice little secondary switch you can turn on is a valuable tool.
The fact that Hollowell is a really good puck-handling defenseman, who shoots right and can skate makes his determination and relentlessness away from the puck all the more valuable.
Hollowell got a secondary assist on this goal (which I used in the Kristians Rubins article), but you can see exactly what I’m talking about. He’s hard on the forward with the puck and fights for possession hard. As soon as he sees Rubins with the puck and with his head up, Hollowell sees the open ice in front of him and streaks off (this is 4v4 so he was more free to do this). He almost caught up to Korshkov who ended up scoring a sweet goal, but you can see Hollowell’s work on this play.
The transition from junior level fitness and strength to what the pro level requires shocks every player that comes into the league. The only one that may have even been a little disappointed was Andreas Borgman. It was never going to take one season for Hollowell to get up to a weight/level of strength that he can fight in.
Connor Carrick, who is the comparison I used earlier, is the same height and four years older, and 20 lbs heavier. Hollowell will grow into his body in time, and in turn will be able to fight more effectively along the boards and in stick battles where the strength to be in the right position is key. I noticed Hollowell had to compensate for his lack of inertia a few scenarios (particularly against rushes) that would put him out of position as the puck moved. Hopefully those moments decrease in frequency as he bulks up.
I saw moments of brilliance out of Hollowell on occasion, but it wasn’t a consistent part of his game. He often got swallowed up in a game and disappeared, only showing up when he got overwhelmed by a more mature player coming at him at speed across the blueline. As Hollowell gets bigger, as he gets more used to the players around him, he should start commanding the ice more. If it doesn’t start to happen, it will be something that holds him back.
That Extra Step
One of the things players tell me affects them when they move from the AHL to the NHL is that everyone is just that extra step faster and that extra step closer all the time. You can see this stark difference when you watch Martin Marincin play in the NHL vs the AHL. Trevor Moore was the one that pointed this out and Adam Brooks repeated it during the season that just passed. I think when you have someone who is unrelenting — like those two and some of the better Marlies graduates — you’ll start to believe that they can be NHL players (Jeremy Bracco’s lack of this trait is one of the things that holds me back on him).
I don’t know whether Hollowell can gain this extra step naturally as he gets bigger and stronger and faster, or if it’s something that will hold him back more, but he does need to be able to skate around opponents more regularly, and have that extra second of time and space to make the ideal play, particularly in the defensive zone. As he moves up the lineup and faces tougher assignments, he’s going to need to match their level and show that he has an extra step on the average AHL player.
Moving on to what the rest of the electorate thinks, here’s what Katya, Brigstew, and Kevin have to say.
Hollowell and Joey Duszak are twins through the happenstance of their arrival on the Marlies when it was overflowing with defenders. The pair of them went to the ECHL, and then returned, and for both, they look … well, like Jesper Lindgren. He used to be twinned in our minds with Sean Durzi, who is the exact same age, and is now in the Kings system, playing about as well in the AHL as Hollowell — nowhere near the top pair. Hollowell gets a bump from me for being a little younger than Lindgren, and for his — I hate to say this — but his compete. He’s not going to fail from wont of trying.
Hollowell is in the same group of middle/bottom pairing defensemen on the Marlies I ranked together near the end of my rankings. He seems to have more flash than Lindgren, but not as much as Duszak. He’s sort of between them, but I have no bloody idea what if anything that actually means. I’ll want to see some big development steps from him this season.
Hollowell is an outstanding skater, and I’ve always hoped that he could end up being Toronto’s version of Victor Mete. I have no doubt that he could keep up with NHL forwards, and he showed plenty of offensive ability back in the OHL. While he spent some time with the Growlers last season, he did not look out of place as a rookie defenceman in the AHL, though he did not have the same offensive flair as he did back in junior. He looked too hesitant at times last season, but now that he’s got some pro experience under his belt, I’m expecting to see more points, end-to-end rushes. Having said that, he’s an undersized defender who’s only one year younger than Jeremy Bracco, so he’ll need to take a few steps forward next season in order to maintain his spot on this ranking.