Despite some solid numbers in his third Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season with the Moncton Wildcats, defenceman Adam Holwell of St. John’s isn’t garnering much attention from scouts in his first year of NHL draft eligibility. He hasn’t been able to crack the Central Scouting Services rankings, but both he and his coach believe that a future in pro hockey is still in the cards.
When the NHL’s Central Scouting Service released its midterm rankings of North American skaters earlier this week, St. John’s native Adam Holwell wasn’t among the 212 players listed.
“People don’t make money from being on the list,” contends the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Moncton Wildcats’ sophomore defenceman. “There’s a lot more to it than that.”
He’s not wrong.
Holwell, an 18-year-old product of the Avalon Celtics minor system who left home at 14 to play midget hockey in Mississauga, Ont., is tied for sixth on Moncton in scoring — tied for seventh amongst defenceman in the entire circuit — with six goals and 28 assists in 44 games for the second-place Wildcats. Moreover, his sterling plus-21 is third best on the club and in the league’s top 25 and it comes while consistently playing against opposing teams’ top lines.
“I have a great respect for that because that’s what I did in my career in the American Hockey League,” says Wildcats coach Darren Rumble, a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers who went on to play over 600 games in the AHL, winning a league plus/minus award and top defenceman honours along the way.
“I know how hard it is to defend against the top players, and be on the ice when your team is scoring. That just shows what a great job he’s doing.”
It’s just one of many commendations Rumble is eager to heap upon Holwell, whom he considers to be one of the top seven defenceman in the QMJHL.
“His hockey sense is off the charts. He’s very good at getting the puck out of the zone, regardless of the pressure. He processes the forecheck and has real good composure with the puck,” the coach says.
“To go along with that, he’s one of my favourite players to coach... very low maintenance and dedicated to the game. Just a great kid.”
The only knock against Holwell, and the primary reason Rumble figures he’s gone unnoticed by NHL teams, is his skating, which has, “room for improvement.”
For his part, Holwell knows he’s not the fleetest of foot, but he figures he makes up for it playing a smart, positional game.
As for how that affects his stock with respect to the scouting rankings, Holwell is wise enough to know that plenty of his predecessors have gone on to pro careers without ever having been drafted by an NHL club, including his Wildcats teammate Cody Donaghey who went undrafted but signed an entry-level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs after attending their rookie camp.
“I think it’s a bit of extra motivation to not be on it,” says Holwell. “I’ll do my best to get to a camp this summer, and if not this summer then at some time throughout my career.
“All it takes is one opportunity, one team that wants you and gives you one chance and you make the most of it.”
Rumble is already convinced his prized rearguard will make it to the next level.
“If he’s here for two more years, he’ll be ready to go play pro at some level, for sure, whether it’s the ECHL, AHL, Europe or the NHL. He’ll be able to play beyond junior.”
Holwell is at the top of the Wildcats’ blueline depth chart, along with 20-year-old defence partner Austin Kosack, and he’s quarterbacking the team’s top power play unit that includes Conor Garland, the Q-league’s leading scorer last season (129 points) and again this season (100 points).
“You give him the puck the puck and a lot of times you’re just going to get a point from that,” Holwell says of the Arizona Coyotes’ fifth-round draft pick last June.
Beyond that, Holwell says he’s returned to the Wildcats this season feeling more comfortable and confident than ever before, and has taken advantage of the trust Rumble and the coaching staff have in him. Unlike his first two seasons, when he’d make the safe decisions instead of the risk-reward decisions.
“It started at training camp. I started taking more chances offensively when the games really didn’t matter. When the season started, I was used to playing a bit more of an offensive role,” Holwell explains.
Unlike some of his peers who have been drafted into the QMJHL higher than his third-round selection three years ago, but now find themselves fighting for to maintain their foothold in the league, Holwell has been a mainstay on the Wildcats blueline since his rookie campaign, a rebuilding year for the club.
“When I was 16, I was lucky enough to join a team that had a lot of rookies and our defensive corps wasn’t too deep, so it was easier for me to get a lot of ice time. If I ended up on another team, I might not have had that opportunity and who knows where I’d be right now.
“I’m really thankful for the opportunity I was given by the Wildcats.”
Given the results since and Rumble’s praise, it’s clear they’re just as thankful to have him.