Despite all the tweaking and tumult around the Anaheim Ducks’ organization this summer, there remains one very important constant: an elite blueline. Naturally, the mind first drifts to names like Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen, but the quality of this blue line extends far beyond its big name stars. Even so, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’d mention Korbinian Holzer’s name, in any capacity.
Tough to blame them. At 28, Holzer has played a grand total of 58 games through three seasons in the National Hockey League. The rest of that time has been spent in the minors. Since his entry-level deal, he’s managed to string together some one-year deals. He signed the latest one this summer, securing another year in Anaheim. Though his career has largely been non-descript, there’s reason to believe the Ducks could tease some untapped potential out of him.
Holzer’s 2015-16 Year in Review
Holzer’s 2015-16 campaign was a quiet one. He only played in 29 games during the regular season, being a healthy scratch the rest of the time. In other words, the quintessential seventh defenseman experience. Former head coach Bruce Boudreau gave him an average of 14:45 of ice time in that handful of games.
The majority of that time was spent with either Hampus Lindholm or Cam Fowler. He was quietly serviceable with either partner, giving Boudreau a fallback option whenever a more established blueliner would fall to injury. Unfortunately, that quiet efficiency wasn’t enough to earn the German any playing time during the post-season, where he watched from the press box as his team imploded in seven games.
Looking Ahead to 2016-17
If anything, Holzer can look forward to being reunited with ‘detail-oriented’ Randy Carlyle in 2016-17. His career high in games played came under Carlyle’s watch in the 2014-15 season, where he skated in 34 games for the Leafs. Granted, Carlyle was cut from Toronto halfway through that season, but he did entrust Holzer with close to 20 minutes in some games. That familiarity could come into play and get him a few more appearances.
Boudreau showed rookie Shea Theodore a lot of love last season. Carlyle claims he’s prepared to develop young players, but it remains to be seen if he stays true to that, which could play into Holzer’s favor. Outside of Simon Despres, Anaheim’s blue line had a fairly clean bill of health in 2015-16. An injury of any length could see Holzer playing meaningful minutes over Theodore.
This is where things get interesting. Holzer graded out really nicely in both relative shot attempt suppression and generation per 60 minutes, finishing as one of Anaheim’s best defensemen in both categories. His shot suppression was impressive for a guy who hasn’t gotten too many looks in his career, finishing well ahead of Vatanen and Despres. To boot, only Lindholm was better than him in relative shot attempts for per 60 minutes (RelCF60). That’s noteworthy considering that players with offensive reputations like Vatanen and Fowler are factored into this sample.
That’s not to say Holzer should be considered one of Anaheim’s best defensemen. He’s not getting fed a steady diet of tough matchups, so his numbers can’t be judged the exact same way we’d judge a Lindholm or Manson. He’s played well enough in those minutes though to warrant a longer look from the coaching staff. At the very least, we know he won’t be worse than Kevin Bieksa.
For $700,000 a year, the Ducks could do a lot worse than Holzer as their seventh defenseman. He’s shown an ability to play an efficient game in limited minutes, with a sneaky panache for picking up assists. Theodore isn’t quite ready for full-time NHL duty, which will play into Holzer’s favor.
Barring injury, he’ll play in more games than he did last year. Should he bring the same quality of play that he did in 2015-16, he’ll easily get himself another contract next summer. Who knows, maybe it’ll be a two-year deal this time around.