Toronto Maple Leafs: Justin Holl’s long road to his NHL debut

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 10: Justin Holl /

It hasn’t been the ideal road to the NHL for Justin Holl, but he’s here now, playing on the blueline with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In this day and age, NHL debut’s are a regular occurrence, whether it be with the Toronto Maple Leafs or whoever. Some are more surprising than others, with teenagers getting the call-up to the NHL to start the season, or in the middle of the year from the AHL.

In the case of Toronto Marlies defenceman Justin Holl, Wednesday’s game was the culmination of years of hard work.

When Holl woke up, he likely had no idea that he would be getting a call to join the Maple Leafs ahead of their game against the New York Islanders. To be fair, neither did the Leafs.

Hours before the game, it was announced that Roman Polak had been placed on injured reserve with a viral infection, while Ron Hainsey was questionable for game time with an illness.

It has been a career week for Holl. He replaced good friend Travis Dermott as a representative for the Marlies at the 2018 AHL All-Star game after he was called up to the Leafs.

If competing and winning the All-Star tournament with teammate Andreas Johnsson and the North Division team wasn’t enough, Holl received the news he’d been waiting for his entire career:

"“I was actually heading back from All-Star break when I got a call from Kyle Dubas saying that two guys were sick. So they didn’t know if I was going to play. They wanted me to come and be ready,” Holl said to reporters following the game.“Then, I got another call from Kyle at 4 p.m. saying that I was playing. At that point, you dial it in and get ready.”"

Who was he playing with? None other than Dermott, his former partner with the Marlies. As reported by the Canadian Press via Sportsnet, Holl said:

"“Dermott texted me and said ‘We’re playing together, right? I’ve had chills for the last five minutes.’“And I said ‘I know, let’s go.’ He’s a good friend and it was fun to get to come up here and play with him.”"

The moment in the spotlight has been a long time coming for Holl. Originally a second-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, the defender was coming off a season splitting time between the USHL and the high school ranks.

After the draft, Holl started his career at the University of Minnesota. After four years, 38 points and 142 games with the Golden Gophers, he made the jump to pro hockey.

Holl’s time with the Chicago organization was short-lived though. He only played two games with the Rockford IceHogs during the 2014-15 season. He spent the majority of that year with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL.

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Although he didn’t return to Rockford, Holl did enough to catch the eye of Dubas and the Marlies, who offered him an AHL contract in 2015.

From there, Holl worked his way into Sheldon Keefe’s lineup, and eventually, into being one of the team’s most trusted defenders.

His smooth skating and ability to jump up in the play have been assets to Holl during his time in Toronto.

His biggest moment could very well have come in the first round of last year’s AHL playoffs. In triple-overtime of game four of the first round against Albany, Holl tossed a harmless wrister on net. That shot walked off the Devils and sent the Marlies to the second round.

This season, Holl has 20 points in 39 games with the Marlies.

Coming into his NHL debut, Holl said that he just wanted to settle in and not do anything stupid.

After being on the ice for Dermott’s first NHL goal, Holl decided to make it a duo of firsts in the game. He dashed down the right wing and snapped a shot through Thomas Greiss’ five-hole.

Following the game, Dermott talked about his friend scoring his first career goal:

"“He just keeps trekking along. He hasn’t really had many opportunities up until this one. I think he was the most deserving of anyone I’ve played with.“Him coming through and having the game he had along with me, it was crazy. You can’t put it into words.”"

As for where his first goal puck would end up, Holl said he’d most likely send it home to his parents, to put alongside his first goal puck from University.

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It looks like Hainsey and Polak could return to regular duty on the weekend, meaning Holl will be back in the AHL soon. It only took Holl one game to create his legacy with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He became the first rookie to score in his debut for the Buds in 40 years.

Ron Wilson pulled off the same feat back in 1978. Yes, that Ron Wilson.

A round of applause for Holl. He deserves it for a job well done.