The German Card
It was almost seven long years ago that Korbinian Holzer went to his computer at home in Germany and saw that the Maple Leafs had selected him with the 111th pick of the 2006 NHL entry draft.
He was hoping to be drafted, not that he knew a great deal about the NHL. He did know the Leafs were a famous team in Canada, and that's about it.
It actually has turned out, years later, to be a pretty fruitful draft for the Leafs and John Ferguson Jr., then the club's general manager. No all-stars, but of the seven players taken, six are in the NHL today, which tells you something about the nature of the entry draft and patience required before evaluating how any team did.
Jiri Tlustly (13th), Nik Kulemin (44th), James Reimer (99th), Viktor Stalberg (161st) and Leo Komarov (180th) all were taken along with Holzer that year. Only Tyler Ruegsegger (166th) didn't make it to the NHL among the Leafs selected.
But back to Holzer. Two years under Dallas Eakins learning the North American game did him well. He came to North America with countryman Marcel Mueller, and while Mueller headed back to Europe this season, Holzer stayed with the Marlies and four games ago was promoted back to the big club.
It's pretty clear head coach Randy Carlyle is gradually learning to appreciate the big German blueliner a little more each game, and when it came down to the dying seconds on Thursday night in Winnipeg, it was Holzer on the ice along with captain Dion Phaneuf to repulse the final Jets scoring efforts.
Holzer played 23:41, second only to Phanuef. In his previous three games, he had played 15:09, then 17:53, then 20:38, so Carlyle is obviously gaining a little more confidence in the rangy defenceman with each outing.
It's one way to see that the manner in which Carlyle was deploying his athletes at the beginning of the season has changed significantly. Another player, forward Jay McClement, is also receiving a sharply increased workload as Carlyle tries to identify the players who can best do the chores he wants done on the ice as the Leafs seek to become a better defensive club.
Holzer isn't flashy, and his first NHL goal against Washington was more of an aberration than anything Leaf Nation should expect on a regular basis. He's not a big hitter, either, but more of a blueliner who moves the puck simply and quickly and angles off opposition forwards more than obliterates them.
If Mike Kostka was the early apple of Carlyle's eye, now it's Holzer. Together, those two are part of a remade right side of the Leaf defence, along with Cody Franson. Franson was a Leaf last year, of course, but he was in and out of the lineup and for the most part the right side consisted of Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek and Luke Schenn.
Now, Phaneuf plays the left side as well, while Kostka, Holzer and Franson are making up a much more mobile right side of the Toronto defence, with all three more efficient puck movers than Komisarek or the departed Schenn.
It's a small detail, perhaps, not a noteworthy as Phil Kessel's first goal of the season. But the 6-5 Leafs are clearly becoming a very different hockey club under Carlyle than they were under Ron Wilson, and Holzer is one of the ex-Marlies making a difference.