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Time and Space: The development of Dylan Holloway

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
2 months ago
The Oilers, for some time, have needed the following: a goalie, a right-shot defenceman upgrade and a top-six forward. As we have all seen, the goalie and the right shot defenceman cost relative to the trade capital and the salary cap position of the Oilers make those acquisitions challenging. However, the top six forward upgrade is one that can be solved relatively easily.
Why? Because they have Dylan Holloway sitting there ready to take on that challenge. Now some of you just spit-taked your drink on to your lap and I really cannot blame you. His NHL numbers on the scoresheet have been poor. Ten points in 65 games played is not top six material.
However, his underlying numbers are encouraging. At 5v5 in his short career, averaging only just nine minutes per night, he sports an expected goals percentage of over 54%. His shot metrics are also quite good at over 52% for his career. His line just cannot score. When on the ice, Dylan Holloway and his mates shoot a whopping 3 percent. His two most common linemates are Derek Ryan and Ryan McLeod so that explains some of it, for certain.
Even, the next two most common linemates, Jesse Puljujarvi and Warren Foegele, are not legitimate offensive threats. Still if you are drafted as an offensive player, you need to produce offence. Given the Oilers could use a player like this in their top six, it would be wise for the Oilers to work with this player to help him succeed in the top six. I think I have an idea of what can help.

Time And Space in Hockey

An often-used term in hockey is players creating, using or eliminating “time and space.” For those not familiar, the concepts sound exactly like they mean. Time is simply the ability to influence how long a player has to make a play. If you’re on offence, you want your team to have more. If you’re on defence, you want the other team to have less. Space is the amount of area that you have to operate within. More space allows an offensive player more latitude to make plays. If you’re on defence, you want to collapse those areas.
Now, it is important to note that these concepts do not mean the same thing. Just because you have more time doesn’t mean you have more space. Think of Leon Draisaitl moving in the offensive zone using his body as a shield. He doesn’t have a lot of space, but he does have a lot of time because the defender cannot get to the puck quickly. Similarly, having more space doesn’t always mean you have more time. If you catch a puck standing still while a defender is moving toward you, it doesn’t matter if you have 10 feet of space: he will close that in a hurry and kill the play.
So, what an offensive player strives for ideally is to create both. Coincidentally, this is the part of the game that young players struggle with a lot at the NHL level. The players are bigger, faster and more disciplined in their structure. It makes it much harder for young offensive players to find their way. Dylan Holloway is no exception.
I can safely state that Holloway’s injury-plagued start to his career has certainly caused some of the issues. In essentially two and half seasons, Dylan Holloway has a grand total of 110 games played at either pro level. He should be close to double this amount. It is a very tough chore to find your way to offensive success in the NHL without lots of reps and lots of them being in the AHL.
However, I am not convinced the Edmonton Oilers organization has done him many favours, either. This is a player who doesn’t lack skill, size, speed or compete level. He also shoots the puck very well. If you don’t believe me, take a look at all of these videos.

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His AHL stints have been very strong. He has scored at good rates given the injuries he has overcome involving his wrist and shoulder which definitely impact offesnive ability. He has shown glimpses of that in the NHL as well.

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This goal came in arguably his best NHL game. A game that looked like it was going to set him on course for a good season. Then, Jay Woodcroft decided to change the course of his future. If you are trying to work on developing a young player at the NHL level, especially on complicated concepts like time and space, the player must play and he must play with skilled players. Nine minutes per game simply does not work. That’s what Holloway has received in his 65 games in the NHL. We’ve already talked about his most common linemates and their offensive prowess. I understand the idea of earning play in the top six. However, Holloway has not been given a fair shake in my opinion.
To my mind, the Oilers impaired Holloway’s development as much as injuries did. Every mistake Holloway made, he sat on the bench. Every time he got minutes with the top six players, they were taken away soon after despite having positive results. Don’t believe me? Dylan Holloway has a whopping 60 minutes with Connor McDavid at 5v5. In that time, they are only 50 percent goal share, but a surreal 61.9 percent expected goal share.
You say McDavid’s carrying him? Nope. McDavid’s expected goal share is 57 percent away from Holloway. Oh and by the way, these two start in the defensive zone more than they do in the offensive zone. Is it a small sample size? Sure. Does it merit further examination? Yes, it damn well does.
What about Leon Draisaitl? Well, the goal share is tough at 25 percent, no question. However, the expected goal share is over 54 percent and Leon is lower at 53 percent away from Holloway. Again, just like McDavid, the sample size at 72 minutes is small, but each warrants more testing.
So what does this all have to do with time and space? Skilled, young players need to play and play a lot. They also need to play with skill. This will help them learn how to use time and space just like their skilled linemates. Take a peek at this shift as an example of the learning process needed for Holloway. Holloway starts in a nice spot on the F3 with the puck low. Then watch when the puck comes back high in the zone to Ceci. Holloway knows he has Ryan behind him and he has McLeod beside him in a net front spot.
He has two nice choices here. Spread to the flank to support a puck that moves sides or come right up top and start at 2-3 offensive zone attack. When the frame advances, McLeod takes the 2-3 spot, leaving the flank open. Instead, Holloway goes to the net. This is a win for the defender. He literally skates into the check. Unfortunately, Nurse now must send the puck back down low because his options are limited.
The great news is that Holloway keeps working and causing a loose puck that is taken up by the Oilers. He then beats his player to a net-front spot and shields him with his backside. The result: a goal. His mark was a very quick and reliable player in Matty Beniers. Holloway shrugged him off with ease.

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That video gives you the whole picture of Dylan Holloway. His inexperience causes him not to use the right time and space to start. However, his talent, work ethic and size allowed him to overcome it leading to a goal.
Here is another example that shows the same good news and bad news type of play. In this case, the bad news came early. Off the faceoff, Holloway moves up into a nice 2-3 offensive zone attack position. He is looking directly at Ceci. Ceci decides to send the puck low and funnel to the net. Holloway did what habit has taught him over the years. Go to the net. That was the wrong idea in this instance. Filling Ceci’s spot would have been the better idea both for offence and defence.
On offence, he gives Draisaitl an option up top for a switch. Holloway also fills a spot above the puck in case of a turnover, which is smart defensive hockey. Nevertheless, Holloway gets a second chance to create time and space when all of the Sharks decide to stare at the greatest of Leon Draisaitl. All he had to do is slide out the flank as a pass option for Draisaitl. Instead, he stacks up on the net front where there are already two Oilers — opportunity wasted. Now, the last part of the play is the good news. Holloway realizes the issue and moves out to the alternate flank to support the puck carrier. He receives the puck with a player on his back.
Watch this next piece carefully. Watch how quick Holloway’s hands and feet are to create space and time. Then, when he does get the time and space, watch how quickly he makes a decision and how skilled he executes that decision. This is a very skilled play.

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Alas, though, playing young players with skill means having them make mistakes and learning from them. Here is a clip in which Dylan Holloway made a poor play, borne out of a lack of experience and maybe confidence, I think.
Here, Holloway does a nice job reading that McDavid is going to end up back up ice, and the Oilers will have full puck possession. So he skates to the offensive blueline wall. This gives Foegele who is receiving the stretch pass a nice little outlet option. Foegele gives him the puck and now Holloway has three options. It’s a three-on-three play with the greatest player in the world coming down the middle.
Holloway can drive the puck wide with his speed and size to draw defenders and find McDavid behind him. He can make a pass into McDavid and drive the net. Or he can stop up and surf to the middle of the ice and wait for McDavid and Foegele to create space for a pass lower in the zone. This was a legitimate opportunity. Instead, Holloway wastes a shot on net that is deflected out of play.

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This play had a chance for success. Holloway did not have enough experience and/or confidence to realize it. He never got another shift with McDavid. Was that the ideal play? Certainly not. However, keep playing him with skill and give him that feedback on the bench.
Again, let’s watch another example of how Holloway can work in the offensive zone. This is from his best NHL game. He misses one spot where he could just sit down and start a 2-3 attack. Instead, he slides on through the window. Still, watch him keep moving through searching for the right space to support the puck. He ends up net front with the inside position on his check available for a screen, deflection or rebound. Bouchard takes care of business all by himself. Dylan Holloway is hard to defend right now. Imagine him with more reps with skilled players and the trust of his coaches.

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One of the issues I struggle with (and I believe a lot of Oiler followers do as well) is expectations for young players. The Oilers were so bad for so many years, they ended up with high lottery picks who could produce relatively quickly. Consequently, sometimes I forget that young players usually need time, and the organization and fans need to be generous in giving that time.
The norm for most NHL teams is to draft, develop and wait for the player to arrive. The Oilers organization and its fans need to do the very same. The cost for the Oilers to acquire players they need to make a Stanley Cup run is high. We have all seen the discussions about what it would take. Why would we want not to try our very best to develop a homegrown talent to fill one of those roles?
For Dylan Holloway, the Oilers need to give him the time and the space to work on his time and space. If they do that, I think they solve their top-six forward need. Get healthy, Dylan.
That’s it for today, folks. Send me feedback to @bcurlock on the Twitter, or right here in this article. Merry Christmas to everyone. Wishing all a healthy and happy season with family and friends.

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