It’s been a while for the Toronto Maple Leafs organization in which they’ve seen depth in their drafts. Beyond the third round, they either haven’t seen their picks work out of have moved them in deals to land depth players. Regardless, the overall development of later round picks hasn’t been a strong suit for the organization.
This season, the Maple Leafs have been forced to adapt and do so quickly with injuries piling up on their back end. Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly and TJ Brodie have all missed time on the long-term injury reserve, while Jordie Benn has popped in and out of the lineup with injuries of his own.
With that, players like Flip Král and Mac Hollowell have slotted in with others like Timothy Liljegren, Mark Giordano and Rasmus Sandin seeing major bumps in their roles — something the Maple Leafs surely didn’t expect prior to the season.
While Král’s stint was short-lived, playing just two games with the big club, Hollowell has landed in the Maple Leafs lineup for the past four games and on Nov. 28 recorded his first NHL point, a secondary assist on Auston Matthews’ 11th goal of the season in Detroit. For Hollowell, that milestone was a long-time coming.
Maple Leafs’ Hollowell Originally Undrafted
A member of the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, Hollowell went undrafted in 2017 after just 23 points in 63 games during his NHL draft year. Still, the Maple Leafs brought Hollowell into development camp that year, but that opportunity was quickly halted when he suffered a broken leg.
He returned to the Greyhounds for the 2017-18 season and finished with 12 goals and 56 points in 63 games — a performance that earned him a draft spot with the Maple Leafs at the 2018 NHL Draft, albeit in the fourth round and 118th overall. Still, his run to the NHL would be an uphill battle.
The Maple Leafs signed the right-handed defenceman to a three-year entry level contract following his final season in the OHL season in 2018-19 after he put up 77 points in 64 games and from there he settled into a role with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, with a short stint in the ECHL with the Newfoundland Growlers in 2019-20.
It was a long wait spanning parts of four seasons, but with the injuries to the Maple Leafs blue line Hollowell finally got the call earlier this November. Still, the wait and the long road wasn’t something that bothered the 24-year-old.
Prior to making his NHL debut on Nov. 23 against the New Jersey Devils, Hollowell told reporters just how ready he was: “I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was a kid. Just want to make my mark with the team, help them win games.”
Maple Leafs’ Hollowell Fitting in Nicely
His stint has been a good one so far for the young defender. The team is 4-0-0 in the four games he’s played in and while he’s played an average of just over 13 minutes per game, he’s managed to make some big play for the Maple Leafs in that time.
To further that, Sheldon Keefe and the Maple Leafs have even used the young defenceman on the penalty kill and while it’s been limited in his four games, the compliment is enough to show trust in the fourth-round pick.
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What makes Hollowell so much more important to the team is the fact that he is a right-handed defenceman — something the team was looking for prior to the season, testing the waters with Rielly, Giordano and Sandin playing on their off-side.
To this point, his possession numbers aren’t exactly where you’d want them to be, but again it’s a small sample size. Considering he’s had 71.4 percent defensive zone starts, the face that he’s done as well as he has is an impressive takeaway from his game.
Hollowell’s Milestone and Maintaining His Role
While his play has been one of a young, developing player, Hollowell has produced more positives in his game than things that can be overly picked apart. At just five-foot-nine and under 200 pounds, Hollowell has won puck battles and got involved physically. He has six blocked shots and two hits in his four games and while it’s not much, he is showing a willingness to include the intangibles in his game as well.
It does seem inevitable that when Rielly, Benn and Brodie return Hollowell will see a move back down to the AHL, but as he mentioned he is looking to make his mark with the team and has already earned the respect of the team’s star offensive threat.
Following his first NHL point, Matthews made a trip over to the Maple Leafs’ bench to congratulate the young defenceman on his personal milestone, one that was a long-time coming.
Even more, Matthews shared with reporters after the game what he said to the former Greyhound.
“I told him after the game he’s undefeated in the NHL,” said Matthews according to David Alter. A compliment to a player still finding his way at the NHL level.
Regardless of what happens when the Maple Leafs’ regulars return from injury, Hollowell has surely already left his mark on this team. If he can continue to take advantage of this opportunity, you can bet he’ll have a future in blue and white — a compliment to the player and a sign that the Maple Leafs could be changing their approach when it comes to the development of their later round draft picks.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.