All Justin Holl sought after finishing his collegiate career at Minnesota was an opportunity to prove he could play professional hockey.
Holl, a defenseman, was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the 2010 draft and remained their prospect throughout his four seasons with the Gophers. When Holl became eligible to sign with the Blackhawks after his college season ended in April, the Blackhawks didn’t offer him an entry-level deal because they weren't completely sold on his development.
An agreement was finally worked out earlier this week, and Holl signed a one-year deal with the Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate. It gives Holl a chance to further prove himself and the Blackhawks a chance to further evaluate him while having him under contract.
"It's a weight off my shoulders," Holl said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "The season ended, and we weren't really sure what type of contract was going to be offered, if any. It was a waiting game. It turned out well. I’m happy about it."
Blackhawks assistant general manager Norm Maciver said in March he wasn't sure if the organization was going to sign Holl. Maciver described Holl's senior season as solid and said Holl's defensive awareness had improved.
Holl helped the Gophers to a runner-up finish in the Frozen Four this past season. He had one goal, 12 assists, 63 blocks and had a plus-10 rating in 39 games during his senior season.
"I think they were happy where I was at," said Holl, who has been working out with Minnesota hockey alumni this summer. "I still have progress to make. They don’t think I'm most likely an NHL-caliber player now but still a good prospect.
"I think I’ve progressed. I think I had a good season last year. I’m happy about it. I can’t wait to get down to training camp for the Blackhawks. I just want to prove to myself and prove to everybody I’m good a player. It’s not just for them, but for myself. I enjoy doing well and playing well."
Holl's goal is still the NHL, but he's taking it one step at a time.
"My focus is to have a good year and see where it goes," Holl said.
Holl was among six players the Blackhawks took in the first 90 selections of the 2010 draft. Kevin Hayes, their first-round pick, will not likely sign before the Aug. 15 deadline and will become an unrestricted free agent. The Blackhawks chose not to sign forward Ludvig Rensfeldt, the No. 35 overall pick. Holl was selected at No. 54.
Goaltender Kent Simpson, who was drafted at No. 58, is under contract with the Blackhawks and played most of last season with the IceHogs. Defenseman Stephen Johns, who was drafted at No. 60, signed with the Blackhawks in March and finished the season with the IceHogs. Forward Joakim Nordstrom, who was drafted at No. 90, is also under contract with the Blackhawks and played in 16 NHL games last season.