The Guelph Storm chose to advance their youth movement earlier this season, trading netminder Thomas McCollum for a pair of rookies. The club was comfortable with the move due to the advancement of some of its key younger players — including the highly-touted NHL draft-eligible forward Peter Holland.
Holland, ranked 11th by ISS in their most recently released ratings, led the club to a surprise sixth-place finish in the OHL‘s Western Conference. He finished the season with 28 goals and 39 points — almost a point-per-game pace over 68 games. And despite the Storm’s first-round flame-out against the Saginaw Spirit, Holland was able to contribute four goals in the team’s four games.
His performance did not go unnoticed by the scouts. And while the June NHL entry draft is fast approaching, Holland’s not ready to speculate on what his future holds.
"There are a lot of good players out there: John Tavares, Ryan Ellis, Nazem Kadri, they’re all on that list," he said. "They’re very good hockey players and it’s an honor to be mentioned up there with them. You know what, I can’t really think of where I am or what’s going to happen in June. I just had to go out and focus on my game and the rest will take care of itself."
Storm head coach Jason Brooks said Holland was handed a significant role on this year’s club — and bore the brunt of it well, due to dedication and off-season preparation.
"I think he handled it very well. We put a lot of responsibility on him this year coming back," he said. "First off, I guess I should say that he put a lot of time in this summer getting ready for anything. He worked out extremely hard — worked on his skating and shooting. He came back this year ready to take on a bigger offensive role and a bigger leadership role. He was a key to our offensive success this year because of his offensive role and his work, and that’s what he produced."
Last year, as a 16-year-old rookie, Holland played in 62 games with the Storm, scoring eight and adding 15 assists. His offensive numbers flourished this year with the added expectations — and ice time, but what was most impressive was how the defensive aspect of his game improved, going from a -8 to a +10 this season.
"It was a bit of a challenge for me," Holland said. "There is definitely a lot more pressure put on my shoulders than what was there last year when I didn’t get that much ice time," he said. "But it’s pressure that I’m happy to take on and I’m willing to put it on myself. For this team, it’s that core of young guys that we needed scoring for us. On any given night it could be tough to get things going, but that’s fine for me.
As a 17-year-old this year, Holland was asked to be the team’s leader — both on and off the ice. And while some players would crack under the pressure, Holland relished the opportunity — understanding that, as this is his draft year, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
"It was tough because the guys who are my age on other teams weren’t playing such a big role," he said. "They have, what most people would consider was a better team, so other players were taking on more of the weight there," Holland said. "It’s OK for us, because we clearly made a trade with Tom McCollum and Josh Shallet to build for future years. Our young guys got more of a chance to play more key roles on a team that was just going to work hard."
Brooks said the limited experience that Holland had last year truly benefited his play this year.
"I think anytime as a 16-year-old, you come out of minor midget and you think you’re going to get ice time, you expect ice time, and you learn the game," he said. "Anytime as a 17-year-old you have success early and you’re able to say, ‘Hey, that stuff I learned as a 16-year-old is really paying off now.’ Confidence is a beautiful thing. He had confidence for most of the year and he reaped the benefits."
Holland’s seen his stock rise throughout the year, but Brooks said you would never know that Holland was a projected first-round pick because Holland refuses to accept the status quo. Nor will he let his head swell with success.
"Peter was the same kid as always. He’s very driven and determined. Because of that, it’s what we expect out of him," Brooks said. "When he’s not like that, that’s when we know something’s wrong with him. Never ever does he feel too good about himself — he’s always pushing himself to be better.
"His goal is to become a pro. He wants to play in the NHL and he wants to go high in the draft. He’s committed to being that guy. Once that next step happens, his next goal is to play in the NHL. He’s very tough on himself and he’s a very driven kid and I think he’ll make that happen."
Holland’s audition process is over now — all that’s left is the waiting for his name to be called to the podium in Montreal. He admitted that this year did result in some extra stress — although a mid-season performance at the top scouts game helped him with the late-season jitters.
"It was tough, playing in front of scouts it’s tough to be on your game night in and night out, but I guess that’s what you need to do in order to be successful in this league and successful in this draft," Holland said. "But after playing in the prospects game when there was probably over a 150 scouts in attendance, there’s never going to be as many as that.
"Definitely [playing in front of scouts] is in the back of my mind. And because it’s in the back of my mind you still do think about it. It’s something that you try not to focus on too much. Once you start focusing on it, you start squeezing your stick and pucks aren’t going to bounce for you and it’s a downward spiral."
Last year, in a limited role, Holland racked up 31 PIMs. This year as the club’s focal point, he only added 11 to that total. Holland has the size, at 6’2, 220 pounds, but also the awareness of how to use it. Holland said that a mid-season rule change to severely punish those who remove their helmets during fights and a crackdown on physicality didn’t impact him that greatly — and he refused to change his robust style of play.
"If the hit’s there, you’ve got to make it and you have to finish checks. With the helmet rule coming in this year that doesn’t really affect my game too much because I’m not the type of guy to drop the mitts," he said. "If I have to do it I will to protect a teammate, but that doesn’t affect the way I play my game."
With eyes in every arena watching him and the stresses of his draft year upon him, Holland could have been overwhelmed, but Brooks told him early on in the campaign that there was only so much that he could do to control the opinions and thoughts of others.
"I said, ‘Control what you can control. You can’t control what everyone else sees. Somebody might like you, somebody else might not,’" Brooks said. "Just control what you do on the ice and play the way he’s capable of playing. The scouts will see that he’s a big kid and that he can skate well."
Holland knows that he’s shown all he can on the ice this season, but he’s also aware that to take the next step in his development he has to improve other aspects of his game.
"I’ve just got to keep working on my stride," he said. "I did a lot of work on my stride last summer but I’ve got to keep working on that. I’ve got to work on being faster, as the game is all about speed now — they’re taking out a lot of the physical play now. I have to keep getting faster and I’m going to fill out a lot more as the years go on, so that will help me get bigger and stronger.
"There’s a guy I’ve been working with for a few years now by the name of Joey Simon of Powerhouse Hockey. I work with him in the off-season and I worked with him during the season in minor hockey. He’s been great for skill development and he’s put me in a lot of game situations, a lot of one-on-one work. He’s been great for me because he played junior hockey in Kingston when he was my age. He’s been through this and he’s been a great mentor for me so far."
Although the draft’s just a little less than three full months away, Holland’s already thinking of the next year with the Storm and how this year’s experience will benefit the team as a whole — and he’s framing his goals in terms of the team.
"I don’t really set personal goals because once you start doing that then you start thinking about that too much," he said. "I’m more about the team — I’m not going to put myself in a position of thinking about that because then you start squeezing the stick too hard again and things don’t go your way. Getting into the playoffs this year gives us a little more experience. Last year we made it to the second round and that was a little early of an exit for us. We’re making a drive for the next couple of years, so that experience is going to help us."