Penguins Prospect Profile: Riley Holzapfel - What A Difference A Year Makes

Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Photo courtesy of Amy's WBS Picture Page
More often than not in the career of a hockey player, it is not the team that drafts him that relishes in the glory when he proves his worth. Sometimes a guy just doesn't fit in the system of the organization he is drafted into or is never given a legitimate chance to prove himself.

That is what trades are for. To give guys a second chance and with hopefully a better opportunity. There is no better example of this than in the case of then St. John's/Syracuse forward and current Penguins forward Riley Holzapfel.
The Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets) 2nd round draft pick from 2006, Holzapfel spent his first three seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Thrashers' affiliate Chicago Wolves. When the NHL Thrashers moved to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season, they swapped their AHL affiliate to the newly created St. John's IceCaps. 

While in St. John's, Holzapfel found himself mainly in a third/fourth line role. Before an injury in late November caused him to miss almost two months, Holzapfel had tallied seven goals and three assists in his first 18 games.

"They were kind of using me as a shutdown guy," Holzapfel said of his time in St. John's. "I felt inside that I could do better than that."

After returning from injury in late January, Holzapfel posted one goal and four assists in the following 11 games, which probably prompted the trade two weeks before last season's NHL trading deadline. Holzapfel was traded to the Anaheim Ducks and sent to their AHL affiliate at the time, the Syracuse Crunch.

"You can look at it as a positive thing or you can sit and dwell on it," Holzpafel recalled of being traded. "I kind of looked at it as a positive to get out and start fresh."

I spoke with an IceCaps fan and season ticket holder in Newfoundland and she recalled that Holzapfel "spent most of his time on the third line". She also "never thought they [St. John's] handled him in the right way", not using Holzpafel to his full potential.

It was quickly apparent that a change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered for Holzapfel. He finished the 2011-12 season with the Crunch and flourished offensively, tallying 22 points (8G-14A) in the final 28 games of the season.

It was the finish to his season last year that caught Pittsburgh's attention and prompted the Penguins organization to bring him in this past summer.

In his first season with the Penguins AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Holzapfel has been a first line staple alongside Trevor Smith and Chad Kolarik, posting career highs in goals (21), assists (30) and points (51) during the regular season.

With three points in his first three playoff games with the Penguins, including his first two AHL playoff goals, Holzapfel is solidifying his case as a physical, hard-working forward with a scoring touch. His linemate Trevor Smith was quoted earlier this season as saying Holzapfel has one of the best shots on the team, if not the league. His coach in Wilkes-Barre, John Hynes, also had good things to say about Holzapfel, in regards to his hard work off the ice.

"He's grown as a player in numerous ways," Hynes said. "He's probably one of our most improved players on and off the ice. He's lowered his body fat, he's got himself in great shape. That has allowed him to play a much harder consistent game. The way he played later in the second half of the season was really a playoff-type of game. It's really the things he did prior to the playoffs that have now set him up to be able to have success."

It might seem as though Holzapfel's days in a bottom-six role in the AHL are well behind him now, but it just goes to show that hard work, determination and perhaps a change of scenery can be the difference in a forward prospect like Holzapfel in breaking through and showing he can reach the level of potential that warranted him being a 2nd round NHL draft pick.


Post a Comment