Justin Holl: From the ECHL to the Toronto Maple Leafs Blueline

UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 13: Michael Dal Colle #28 of the New York Islanders looks to block a second period shot by Justin Holl #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on November 13, 2019 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 13: Michael Dal Colle #28 of the New York Islanders looks to block a second period shot by Justin Holl #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on November 13, 2019 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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Jan 20, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) hits the crossbar as Toronto Maple Leafs  Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 20, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) hits the crossbar as Toronto Maple Leafs  Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

Holl and the Marlies

Quickly moving up the Marlies depth chart, then head coach Sheldon Keefe and GM Kyle Dubas saw something most did not in Holl. There was something about the potential in his game that forced Keefe and Dubas into the same position during a very unique interview.

In 2016, Steve Dangle had the opportunity to speak to both Keefe and Dubas, separately, about who they believed were the biggest surprises to come out of the Marlies season that year. Among forwards, both lauded Zach Hyman after the former Wolverine’s breakout performance for the Leafs that season. Safe to say that stamp of approval has worked out quite nicely for the duo.

But on the backend, interestingly enough, both Keefe and Dubas mentioned Holl as the guy who surprised most.

At the time, Dubas stated, “on defense I would say that the biggest surprise has been Justin Holl, who we signed in the offseason right in early July. He’s got good size, right shot, but an excellent skater and very, very confident with the puck, and able to make plays up the ice.”

What is incredibly fascinating about this interview is the same elements of Holl’s game that the now Leafs GM and head coach praised before are exactly what make Holl such an effective NHL defensemen nearly five years later.

That commendation is what made Holl the first guy called upon when a Leaf defensemen was out due to injury. On January 31st, 2018, Ron Hainsey was unable to dress for the Leafs, forcing the team to use an emergency recall to get Holl ready in time for puck drop.

And boy did he make an impact. Holl now holds the Toronto Maple Leafs record for scoring two goals in his first two career games as a defensemen. Following that night in 2018, Holl believed he had taken the next step in his development. However, that may have not been the case.