The New Jersey Devils swung and missed when it came to signing top free agent Johnny Gaudreau, as they were thought to be his most likely destination until the Columbus Blue Jackets came calling. Then they were not able to offer a better package than the Florida Panthers gave up for Matthew Tkachuk. Although there was nothing official on a Devils’ offer, Renaud Lavoie, a correspondent for NHL Network, says they “were really interested,” and “tried hard to trade for,” Tkachuk before he was moved to Florida. They had the prospects to entice the Calgary Flames and the cap space to pay him, but just couldn’t get it done.
Factor in some other misses, such as top-line wingers Kevin Fiala and Alex DeBrincat, and the Devils forward corps seems to be lacking the punch and appeal of a scoring winger. That’s where top prospect and 2020 first-round selection Alexander Holtz comes in and faces a bigger and more daunting task than most rookies.
Simply put, the Devils not adding those forwards to the lineup gives Holtz a realistic chance of putting himself in the conversation to be a top-six forward for this club come opening night, and even the potential of playing on the top line like he did the majority of his time with Team Sweden before being drafted by New Jersey.
During this time, Holtz played a lot of minutes with fellow 2020 first-round selection Lucas Raymond. Raymond, the fourth overall selection in that draft, finished his rookie season with the Detroit Red Wings this past season and accumulated 57 points, tallying 23 goals and 34 assists. This is something the Devils need in year one from Raymond’s former linemate.
The comparisons between the two are similar and the Devils need the production Holtz had with him to get the offense rolling in 2022-23. It seems the four guaranteed locks for the top-six spots include Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Ondřej Palát, and Jesper Bratt – whenever he officially re-signs with the club. That leaves a wide-open competition for the final two spots, most likely between Holtz, Dawson Mercer – who was selected 11 picks after him in 2020 – and Yegor Sharangovich.
Where Holtz Stands
Following his first-round selection two years ago, Holtz struggled. In 2020, he returned to Sweden to play professionally, and had brief stints with the Binghamton Devils – the organization’s then American Hockey League (AHL) team – and the Sweden U20 team. During the 40 games played in his native country for the professional team of Djurgårdens IF, he only mustered 7 goals and 11 assists. Meanwhile, during his total of 15 appearances between Binghamton and the Sweden U20 team, he only contributed six points.
Where you can see hope in Holtz becoming the elite goal scorer the Devils are starved for, though, is his outstanding pre-draft numbers and during the 2021-22 campaign with the Utica Comets – the organization’s current AHL team. During his draft year, he tallied 16 points (9 G, 7 A) in 35 games in the Swedish Hockey League. This was the most points of any player under 18 years old. He also scored seven goals in three games for the Djurgårdens J20 team. In 2018-19, he led Sweden’s SuperElit Under-20 league with 30 goals in 38 games and accrued a total of five points to help Sweden finish third in the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Fast-forward to 2021. During the 52 games Holtz played at the AHL level last season, he accumulated 51 points, with 26 goals and 25 assists. His total points compiled was fourth best on the team and his goals scored was the most for the club.
Holtz was also an integral part of the club’s historic season that he looks to turn into good fortune this upcoming season. He took a good first step towards that when he joined other Devils prospects at development camp in Newark a short two weeks ago instead of practicing with the Swedish junior team in hopes of playing in the World Juniors again. He recognizes that he has a huge opportunity to make a statement when the Devils open their preseason campaign in Montreal on Sept. 26. This will be his first chance to show why he should crack the top-six and why they didn’t make a mistake selecting him with their first of three selections back in 2020.
During his nine-game stint with the club last season, Holtz spent the majority of his minutes in the bottom six and didn’t find much success while there, as he tallied two points and had 12 total shots during the trial and only played more than 13 total minutes in three games.
Based on those numbers, Holtz’s resume isn’t up to par with the other options for this team, most likely making him a third-line candidate at the moment. However, comparing the short stop in New Jersey, while playing bottom-six minutes, and his numbers while playing top forward minutes in Utica and with Sweden before 2020 – as mentioned above – it seems clear he should get the opportunity to be on that top line come the Fall.
I do believe Holtz will easily make the opening day roster, as there is no reason at this point to keep him stashed in the AHL for another season. When the opening day lines are announced, though, I see him playing on the third line with veteran-type players such as Erik Haula and Tomáš Tatar. Having said that, he certainly has the skill set to crack the top-six, as his speed, finishing ability, and wicked shot would be a nice complement for the playmaking style of Jack Hughes.
At the end of the day, the Devils may go more of a cautious route and have him play sheltered minutes with veteran-type players, with the hope of moving him up to Hughes or Hischier’s wing as the season progresses. Barring any injury setbacks or unforeseen trades, I do expect him to live up to his pre-draft billing and to at least make strides to becoming an elite goal-scoring winger in 2022-23. One that the Devils, Jack Hughes, and the fans have been patiently waiting for.
Nick Stanziale is a THW writer covering the New Jersey Devils. He is excited to put his journalism degree from Marist College to use and to share his thoughts and feelings on the organization. You can follow Nick on twitter for his latest articles and more.