Dylan Holloway is hungry for his long-awaited shot against the Edmonton Oilers

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At times, Dylan Holloway’s journey in the National Hockey League must have felt like some sort of test designed to gauge his patience and courage.

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Or a cruel joke.

First, he was robbed of the real NHL draft experience. Instead of being called to the stage in a crowded arena to savor the moment, the pandemic limited his draft day to a videoconference.

Then, instead of being able to train for a run at the Edmonton Oilers last year, the 2020 14th overall pick was sidelined by a wrist injury that required surgery and the practically stopped for the summer.

“There were a lot of things I wasn’t able to do, upper body in the gym and on the ice,” he said Wednesday before leaving for rookie camp in Penticton. “Even when I was on the ice, I wasn’t even touching the pucks. I was just skating.

Then, just before NHL camps opened last fall, Oilers doctors examined Holloway’s wrist and told him it hadn’t healed well. They had to go in there and repair the damage.

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“It was really disappointing to hear,” the six-foot, 203-pound left winger said. “When it first happened I thought it was pretty minor. I had a teammate who had surgery on his hand one day and was training the next. I thought mine was fine. Hearing that I had to do the surgery again after a whole summer of trying to rehabilitate was very disappointing.

Add in a bout of COVID-19 and it’s been a tough 18 months for the former University of Wisconsin star, who hopes the worst is now behind him and he can focus on fulfilling his potential.

“I feel much better this year. The wrist is a difficult injury to overcome, but now it is much better. I don’t even have to save it to go on the ice. I can shoot and pass and do everything I did before. I feel really good on the ice.

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“Obviously it’s been a long road and sometimes I felt like it wasn’t going to end, but I’m really happy to be healthy and to be able to take part in the camp this year.”

Now, finally, the stage is set for a union that both sides really want – Holloway wants to fulfill his dream of being in the NHL and the Oilers are definitely looking for high-end, low-cost young wingers.

The hope is that Holloway, who at 20 is still young for a player out of college, can jump straight into the NHL and be an answer to the shortage of talented wingers on the staff. That’s a lot to ask, but that’s also what Holloway wonders.

“It’s my goal, for sure, to be part of the Oilers and be with them all year,” he said, adding that his 33 games in the AHL last year helped point them in the right direction.

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“Every step you take is a jump. NCAA to AHL is a big leap. Same thing from the AHL to the NHL. But I was getting really confident in my abilities by the end of the year there (in Bakersfield). The wrist felt good, I felt like I could make plays and generate offense. I just hope it translates to the NHL level.

“The most important thing is just to play my game. I’m not going to try to be a different player from me. They know what kind of player I am, so I have to play to the best of my abilities – play fast, play hard and try to get goals and generate attack.

Holloway’s only NHL action so far is 3:27 of ice time in Game 4 of Edmonton’s Western Conference Final against the Colorado Avalanche. But he was with the team the whole race and says he absorbed a lifetime of lessons.

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“It was an amazing experience. Even though I wasn’t playing, being at the rink every day and watching the guys, how they act, how they take care of their bodies, it was really cool to be a part of it.

“To go into that last game, it was kind of a little extra cookie. I would have liked to win it, but overall it was just a great experience.

His bid to make the Oilers starts with rookie camp in Penticton, Thursday through Monday, then main camp next Wednesday. It was the light at the end of the tunnel that guided him through frustrations and delays.

“It makes you grateful to be healthy and to be able to play,” he said. “You never really know how good it is until you have it. I’m just very happy to be here.

Twitter.com/rob_tychkowski

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