When the Edmonton Oilers drafted Dylan Holloway with the 14th pick of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Edmonton Oiler fans had opinions, a lot of them. No surprise since Oiler fans have opinions on professional tryout signings that happen in September.
On Holloway, a strong majority felt this was a reach pick on a player who had not scored enough in his first year at Wisconsin. With players like Dawson Mercer on the board, much gnashing of teeth was done about how Ken Holland had missed on the pick.
In the 18 months since that draft, Dylan Holloway’s player development path has added to the angst of Oiler fans. Two surgeries on his wrist/thumb, with the second one required to repair the work done in the first surgery, delayed his entry to pro hockey until January 22, 2022. In his first 32 professional games, he has accumulated 8 goals and 13 assists for 21 points while averaging 2.5 shots per game with a 10% shooting percentage.
His usage has been extensive under former head coach, Jay Woodcroft, and now under interim head coach Colin Chaulk. He has consistently played 1PP since his arrival and recently has seen his fair share of PK usually in a 2PK role but has seem some 1PK. His line, which has included a variety of linemates. has been consistently relied upon in defensive zone starts as well as high leverage situations such defending leads late in games.
Again, his stats and usage have Oiler fans all over the map about this player and where he fits in Edmonton and when that might be.
But what do the Oilers have in Dylan Holloway as a player? Answering that question, will help answer the questions of Oiler fans about this player.
Who is this Steely Eyed Missile Man?
The most noticeable part of Dylan Holloway’s game is his skating. It is noticeable for two reasons: he is a powerful skater who starts with a very low center of gravity. This is the foundation that allows Holloway to be very strong with the puck and also very strong in winning puck possession battles. The second reason his skating is noticeable is the fact that he and Taylor Hall are clones of each other in terms of style. Don’t believe me, have a look at this Hall goal and then the Holloway clips below.
The second most noticeable part of Holloway’s game is his commitment to a 200-foot game. Holloway is going to be a fan favorite in Edmonton for many reasons, but at the top of the list will be his effort all over the ice. His ability to solve other team’s tactics at the speed he does and with the physicality he does will be noticeable instantly at the NHL level. He is a demon on the forecheck as this clip below illustrates.
More importantly, he is just as committed in the defensive zone and his willingness to come back low, assist in puck battles and then exit the zone will be an advantage for his Oiler linemates.
Another impressive piece to Holloway’s game is that he is a zone exit and zone entry savant. Think Ryan McLeod skating ability, but with better puck skills and far more confidence on his entry and exit tactics. There is little question that he is going to be a favorite of his defensemen because he likes to play low and take pucks early making the defenseman’s life much easier. His forward linemates will love his willingness heavy lifting entering the zone.
One final impressive aspect to Holloway’s game is a surprising one: his passing skills. Having watched this player back to his AJHL days, his passing skills have improved exponentially. Perhaps it started with his time at Wisconsin setting up Cole Caufield, but there has been impressive growth in this skill since his debut with the Condors. The vision Holloway with which make passes has been on full display in Bakersfield and his accuracy is uncanny. Most impressive of all however is his creativity. The passes that he attempts at the pace at which he tries them is at a high-end NHL level. This clip below has several examples of his passing skills.
So, What’s The Problem(s)?
So, what is to worry about with Dylan Holloway. There are two key areas. Will he score goals at the NHL level? There is no doubt the skills above will lead to Holloway contributing to goals on a routine basis. The puck goes through his stick on every shift in the AHL and that is unlikely to change at the NHL level dramatically and he will be skating with much higher skill players.
However, top six forwards need to score goals and especially on the Oilers when they have centers like McDavid and Draisaitl. Holloway is on pace for 18 goals in a full AHL season and he scored 11 goals in 23 games in his second year at Wisconsin. The big “if” is whether the surgeries on his wrist/thumb will have a long-term impact on shooting. He does have an excellent wrist shot and his release is very quick. Again, the prior injuries make it difficult to project, but the fact he is on an 18-goal coming off a 10-month layoff with two surgeries on his wrist/thumb can be viewed as encouraging.
The other issue is injury. We have referred to Taylor Hall in this article. The Holloway pace and style of play is very similar. Those who have followed Hall know that he has occasionally struggled with injuries in large part due to the way he plays. While the wrist/thumb injury was not related to style of play, Holloway’s fearless manner of play makes him more susceptible to contact injuries.
What is the Conclusion?
Ken Holland’s choice at 14 looks like a keeper. His skating and 200-foot game will keep him in the NHL a long time. What will define him is whether those skills along with his passing and confidence managing the puck out of his zone and into the opponent’s zone lead to scoring rates that make him a top six player with the Edmonton Oilers for 15 years.