Oilers’ Past Mistakes Show Holloway Needs AHL Ice Time

On Friday the Edmonton Oilers announced the signing of a three-year entry-level contract for first-round selection Dylan Holloway. After an eight-goal college rookie season, and a decent World Junior tournament, the center/left winger took a major step forward in 2020-21, and was amongst the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s leading point producers. While a broken thumb ended what was likely his final college season, his future looks bright and Oilers general manager Ken Holland and head coach Dave Tippett will want to take a long look at him next fall.

Dylan Holloway University of Wisconsin
Dylan Holloway of the University of Wisconsin (Greg Anderson/UW Athletics)

Holloway might be ready for the National Hockey League. He’s played two years of college hockey and has little left to prove at that level of the sport. The Oilers’ recent injury to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has shown the team is still thin on its front end. That fact plus the potential hole in their lineup caused by the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft this offseason could leave little option but to promote the team’s first-round pick in the 2020 Entry Draft straight to the big club, but if they have a choice, and possibly even if it seems that they don’t, the young player should spend most or all of his next season playing in Bakersfield.

Historically Edmonton Rushes Its Prospects

The long list of young Oiler players thrust into more minutes than they can handle is rivaled by few other NHL clubs. From Sam Gagner to Leon Draisaitl, and most recently with Finnish winger Jesse Puljujärvi, the franchise has on multiple occasions derailed or delayed the proper development curve of its prospects in the hopes that, by force-feeding them NHL minutes, they’ll simply figure things out at the pro level and improve the fortunes an often struggling franchise. More often than not, that hasn’t been the case.

Ivan Provorov, Jesse Puljujarvi
Edmonton Oilers’ Jesse Puljujärvi found his way back to the NHL this season. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Matt Slocum)

Gagner’s production and development were uneven at best. Draisaitl, a truly elite player today, simply wasn’t ready. Other players, such as Magnus Pääjärvi or former #1 overall pick Nail Yakupov, never came close to their supposed potential. Even for players that did make the jump successfully, such as Taylor Hall or Connor McDavid, it’s worth asking the question if Edmonton made the right call. While McDavid was without question an NHL-calibre talent in 2015-16, he suffered a significant injury, limiting his games played and costing him the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie. Would allowing his body another year to develop have prevented that? We’ll never know for sure.

Holloway Could Be the Steal of the 2020 Draft

Holloway’s draft profile listed him as a first-round prospect, despite what appeared to be a lack of offense at the NCAA level:

Holloway’s vision and decision-making away from the puck is still what makes him a top prospect and a complete player overall, one that general managers and scouts would love to see. He’s always engaged in puck battles and never backs down when challenging the opposition. Once the offensive production starts to be more consistent, then that will be another aspect of his game that makes him a complete threat.

Peter Baracchini, The Hockey Writers, March 2020

That production came through in spades in 2020-21 as the young Oiler prospect significantly increased his scoring output. In fact, it was rare to see a Wisconsin Badgers scoresheet that didn’t have his name on it somewhere. Many thought he might even make an appearance on Edmonton’s roster late in this season, if not for the thumb injury.

Rogers Place
Rogers Place Arena in Edmonton, Alberta should be the home of several playoff series in the years to come. (Alexscuccato (CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)), from Wikimedia Commons)

That won’t happen now, of course, he’ll see his next glimpses of Rogers Place this fall in the 2021-22 preseason. Should he make it utterly clear he belongs in the NHL, for instance continuing the torrid scoring pace he had at Wisconsin, then the conversation changes, but if he is simply treading water, scoring intermittently or not at all, then the best place by far for the young forward will be the Bakersfield Condors. The minor league system is there for developmental purposes. Holloway should be able to step into a key role on that squad, especially if one or two of this season’s top performers make the jump to the NHL, and, playing big minutes and in every important situation, he can learn what it takes to grind out a season as a professional hockey player without the magnifying glass of playing in a market like Edmonton.

Related: Oilers Prospect Broberg Will Bring Leadership and a Solid Two-Way Game

Holloway looks to be a big part of the Oilers’ future. His entry-level contract will coincide with the absolute prime years of McDavid and Draisaitl, and young, talented players on cheap deals are a key component of any championship roster. To burn a year of that ELC when the player isn’t ready risks handicapping the team down the road when Holloway is looking for a significant raise on his next contract. The biggest factor in all of this, and a benefit for Oiler fans, is there’s a different man sitting in the general manager’s chair, Holland. Unlike the gallery of underwhelming predecessors who rushed those other prospects into the league, Holland is known for his patience and he should be able to identify the best path forward.

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