Seeing Justin Holl score two goals in his first two NHL games, a Maple Leafs record, is no small feat, and his Marlies teammates know it.
“I know he’s worked pretty hard to get to this point,” said Marlies forward Colin Greening. “We’re all really really happy for him—it’s impressive, to say the least.”
Impressive, that is, when you take into consideration the road that Holl, 24, took, and persevered through. A four-year path that saw him work his way from the long bus rides of the ECHL, to an AHL contract with the Marlies, which would eventually lead to an NHL contract with the Leafs.
“It’s amazing,” said Marlies forward Nikita Soshnikov. “I’m really glad for him, he was here for three years and he grinded every day, worked hard every day and he earned his chance.”
While the Marlies may sit atop the AHL standings with a 34-11-0 record, it’s milestones like these, where someone like Holl truly develops and progresses under the Marlies eye, where the team takes the most pride.
There’s plenty for the Marlies D-core, or any player for that matter, that can be taken away from Holl’s journey, and it’s something that Sheldon Keefe and the Leafs affiliate staff addressed with their team this past week.
“This is a very good team, if you’re playing as a regular on this team, your a very good player and you never know when your opportunity may come,” said Keefe. “You never know whose watching, there’s lots of reasons to be motivated, lots of reasons to continue to work, [Holl] is a beautiful example of that and for things to workout the way that they have—It’s a nice reminder for our guys to continue to work and never think that the door is maybe closing.”
The Marlies D is the organization’s best-kept secret.
Seeing Justin Holl get recalled isn’t all-that-surprising to his teammates. Many of whom consider Holl as the AHL’s most underrated player.
Huge congrats to @12JHoll on the All-Star nomination! The most underrated player in the AHL in my eyes!
— Travis Dermott (@Travis_Dermott) January 24, 2018
“Yeah, I think he’s definitely one of the most underrated,” said goaltender Calvin Pickard. “ I didn’t know about him coming over here but he’s really caught my eye.”
But Holl isn’t the only Marlies defenceman who is quietly having a notable season. From top to bottom, the Marlies blue-line has been solid, and you could make the case that the Marlies boast the league’s best defensive unit.
“Defence has been unbelievable,” said Pickard. “Best D-core I’ve played behind in my life and every single night, everybody is consistent, and when your only giving up one or two goals a game—it seems like the guys up front are scoring three or four—it’s been a good recipe for winning.”
The Marlies’ goaltenders are appreciative of the D-core in front of them. Meanwhile, the players are just happy they only have to face them in practice, not in games.
“You look at guys like Marincin [and] Rosen, the way they gap up [in the neutral zone], it’s really hard to play against that,” said Colin Greening. “The way that they kinda veer you off to the side, I know how hard, first hand, that is to play against that system [that] we’re doing right now. I remember in Binghamton I played against [the Marlies] and you felt like you had no room.”
Seeing the organization’s young, depth, defenceman thrive with the Marlies is quite ironic when you consider the Leafs’ blue-line situation.
If you log onto Twitter on any given Leafs game day, you’re likely to come across a few tweets about the team’s blue-line, to say the least. The Leafs D-core is a work in progress, and as the deadline further approaches, surely rumours will swirl that link the Leafs to defenceman-x, that finds their way on the market.
But with the emergence of Holl, and the strong play from Dermott early on, could the Leafs upgrade their backend, internally? Probably not, as seeing Andreas Borgman get demoted to the Marlies today in lieu of Roman Polak’s activation off the IR, likely signals a continuous commitment to having Polak in the lineup.
One thing is for sure, though. Down the stretch of an NHL-season, injuries happen. And if the injury-bug affects the Leafs back-end, they have the necessary depth to fill in gaps.
Nikita Soshnikov’s conditioning stint with the Marlies was not just done to get him healthy, but to showcase him for a trade, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. And in Soshinkov’s first two games back with the Marlies, the Russian forward notched a goal and an assist, appearing to have his legs back under him.
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) February 3, 2018
I’m sure there will be some market interest for a guy like Soshnikov, his raw-skill-skillset alone is worthy of a look.
But his blistering shot and swift hands haven’t been able to make much magic at the NHL level through the 70 contests he’s suited up for. Soshnikov played 56 of those games last season, where he was used primarily in a fourth line role. While Soshnikov’s current stint with the Marlies is for the purpose of conditioning, the 24-year-old winger expressed how quality minutes and usage in the AHL can do wonders for a bubble NHL player.
“First of all you’re going to get your confidence back [in the AHL] and you know if you have confidence and you go [up to the NHL], you can make a place right away, you’re going to be a good player there. If not, it’s kinda like you start struggling.”
Bracco evolving into key cog to Marlies lineup
Jeremy Bracco’s acclimatization to professional hockey was somewhat of a process.
After only recording two points through his first 10 games, Bracco notched 12 points in his last 16 games–including a three-assist outing against Laval on Saturday.
“I feel good,” said Bracco. “Obviously I haven’t played as many games as a lot of the guys here and I’ve been really working [away from] the rink, I feel like it’s translating and I’m getting more of an opportunity to play and play on the power play and just get more of a chance and try to seize that opportunity.”
His usage on the power play, much of it spent on the point, speaks to the progressions he’s made in his first professional season.
“I think as more and more time passes by, he gets comfortable,” said Keefe. “He’s a guy that makes plays, I thought he made a lot of really elite plays and passes out here today and was really feeling it.”
Andreas Johnsson wins AHL player of the week
Johnsson, who leads the Marlies in scoring with 37 points, took home the AHL Player Of The Week honours after recording five points in his last two games.
"I didn't know [Johnsson] before he got here," said Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe after Saturday's 7-1 win over Laval. "I didn't know [Johnsson] when he was a seventh round pick, I'm sure size is a big reason for why he [was] drafted where he [was]."
— Jacob Stoller (@NHLStoller) February 5, 2018