jeudi 6 novembre 2014

Leafs : Time is now for Holland to prove he belongs with Leafs

Source : TSN.CA

The story of Jonathan Cheechoo is one that offers caution to the 23-year-old centre plugging the Maple Leafs third line. Now playing for Moscow Dynamo, Cheechoo led the NHL with an astounding 56 goals as a 25-year-old with the Sharks and was gone from the league entirely less than five years later.

"It's a funny game that way," says Peter Holland, far from making it himself just yet.
"They say one of the hardest things to do is to get to the NHL, but it's even harder to stay here. If there is that opportunity where I can say I've made it, who knows maybe I'll be 38 years old."

Eight picks after Toronto plucked Nazem Kadri with the seventh overall selection in 2009 did

Anaheim spring for the Caledon, Ontario-born Holland, who rung up 67 points in 68 games that year with Guelph.

Five years down the line and now 80 games into his NHL career, Holland is in the earliest stages of securing his place in a league that will chews up those that can't stick quickly and banishes them elsewhere.

He was an up-and-down type for the Leafs last year – his first in Toronto – bouncing between the NHL and AHL with varying degrees of success (he had a dominant playoff with the Marlies), but it's now, with opportunity at hand, that he needs to show why he belongs in the league.

Holland has moved up in the lineup and is drawing bigger minutes with Joffrey Lupul sidelined – including a season-high of more than 16 minutes over the weekend. He's also added power-play duty in Lupul's absence and is killing penalties for the first time since those junior days with the Storm.
Simply put, his opportunity has never been better to show how and why he belongs.

"We know what Peter can do," said Leafs assistant and former Marlies coach Steve Spott. "Obviously I saw it firsthand in the American Hockey League last year. I thought he was the best player in the American League last year. And now he's starting to find that here. He's playing on the power-play now with [Kadri], he's killing penalties and his minutes are going up."

He's also slowly earning the sometimes difficult faith of head coach Randy Carlyle. That wasn't the case often a year ago – Holland's minutes were often overtaken by the veteran hand of Jay McClement.

"That's a real big word for coaches is trust and I think Pete's now got that from Randy," Spott said.

"Now he's got to keep it."

In doing so, Spott says, Holland needs to be responsible with the puck and without it. And for young players that can be a challenge. It was Holland's ill-timed drop pass to Jake Gardiner behind the Toronto goal Tuesday night that precipitated Gardiner's error and the Coyotes first goal.
With trust from the coach, however, Holland admits to feeling more confident, more willing to hang onto the puck and try to make a play from time to time.

He knows he needs to become more difficult for opponents to play against, more refined and aware "away from the biscuit", more disruptive on the forecheck, and far better in the faceoff circle.
"My game is having the puck, making plays with the puck," said Holland. "I don't make too many mistakes when I do have the puck, but it's a matter of putting myself in position to have it more."

Holland has just three points in 12 games this fall – including the game-winning goal over Chicago on Saturday – and poor possession numbers, but some of that has to be attributed to the sparse minutes he drew early on Toronto's fourth line.

Since moving into the third unit centre gig – alongside Leo Komarov and Mike Santorelli – those possession stats have improved and he's become a much more noticeable presence on the ice, using the size, speed and skill that made him a first round pick.

And that has to become the norm for him to succeed.

Though he boasts a new two-year deal and can't go down to the Marlies again without waivers – thereby keeping him in the NHL barring some unforeseen drop-off – Holland still must determine what kind of player he can be for the Leafs, establish himself as a piece of their future.

He looks enviously at Bruins all-around ace David Krejci and sees a model to follow. "I look at a guy like that and think that's something I want to strive towards," Holland said.

He sees a player in Krejci that Claude Julien and the Bruins count on across the board, someone who rose up the ranks of a depth chart to become the leading scorer of a Stanley Cup champ. "I want to be a guy that can be counted on in all situations," he says, "whether we're down a goal in the last couple minutes [and] I need to be put there to get one for us. Or if we're up a goal, be trusted to shut the other team down. It's something that you just need to keep building towards."

Holland was one of those players in the desert on Tuesday.

He was there on the Gila River Arena ice in the final minute of the third period with the Leafs pushing for one more goal – they wouldn't get it, falling 3-2 to Arizona.

That's what he wants, but it's also what he has to earn. And that's a process he's only just beginning.

"I don't know if you can ever really take your foot off the gas pedal," Holland said. "It's a funny game in the sense that if you go on a bit of a slide, next thing you know they bring in the next better kid. There's always kids up and coming trying to take your spot."