As we await word on when the NHL will hold its draft, it seems like a good time to begin looking at which players the New Jersey Devils should target. As it stands, they hold three first-round picks — all of which will be in the top 20 — in what’s a stacked first round.
The Devils had a rough 2019-20 and could use a bit of everything. But what their pipeline lacks is forwards who can be game-changers alongside Jack Hughes, the first overall pick in 2019, and Nico Hischier. One player who should be at the top of their draft board is Swedish winger Alexander Holtz, who had 16 points in 35 games in the SHL (Sweden).
Holtz’s Skill Set Suits Devils’ Needs
Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield are as good as locks to go first and second overall. But what happens after then will determine whether Holtz is available for the Devils with the sixth overall pick. I’m usually not a proponent of drafting based on need, especially this high in the draft, but Holtz may be one of the few exceptions if he’s still on the board.
The Devils are in a great spot with Hughes and Hischier at center. But they need some wingers who are closer to them in age and skill to build a competitive team. Nolan Foote, who they acquired for Blake Coleman at the trade deadline, is a good start. Jesper Boqvist has the potential to play on a top-six line also, though that’s about where it ends with Devils’ forward prospects who can play in the top half of the lineup.
But that would change instantly with Holtz, as he’d be an immediate injection of high-end skill into the Devils’ system. He has a lethal shot that has plenty of power and is scarily accurate. From the team’s prospects, only Foote and Graeme Clarke have comparable shooting talent, and it’s still a bit behind Holtz’s. At the NHL-level, Kyle Palmieri is the only consistent shooting threat, although Jesper Bratt’s shot has improved significantly since his rookie season.
There’s a clear need for more shooting talent on the Devils. And that shouldn’t be a surprise considering they only scored 185 goals in 2019-20, ranked seventh-worst in the league. Holtz might not be able to fix that right away, but he has the potential to be a 40-goal scorer in the NHL, especially if his shot selection improves.
It’s also pretty tantalizing to think what the Devils’ future could hold with Hughes and Holtz as linemates. Hughes is a pass-first center, while Holtz thinks shoot first, which could make the perfect pairing in the NHL. If they both reach their full potential, they could turn the Devils’ five-on-five offense into the strength it needs to be.
Holtz Will Improve Power Play Significantly
If you follow the Devils closely enough, you’re probably familiar with their power play struggles. But for those that aren’t, it’s been a problem for the last two seasons. They were converting on 17.95% of their opportunities at the time of the NHL’s coronavirus suspension, ranked 21st in the league. It also finished the 2018-19 season ranked 21st, so it’s been in the bottom half of the league for a while.
Some of their power play struggles are due to not having enough firepower. Some of it is due to systemic issues and how former head coach John Hynes and his assistants wanted it to operate. Those systemic problems should change if there’s a new coaching staff in place for next season, but there’s no doubt they need more talent too.
Holtz could surprise everyone and make the NHL out of camp in September if that’s when it begins. He’d provide an immediate spark on the power play if that’s the case, but the more likely scenario is him making the lineup in 2021-22. That’s when players like Boqvist, Foote, and Hughes should start making more significant NHL impacts as well.
It’s hard to know what the power play will look like then, let alone next season. But because Holtz has such a blazing shot, he’s exactly what it needs. He’d be the perfect candidate to set up in the Ovechkin spot since he’s a right-handed shot, an asset the Devils haven’t had since Ilya Kovalchuk was on the team. Combine his shot with Foote, Bratt, and Palmieri — who has one year left on his deal but seems like a good candidate to be re-signed — the Devils should have plenty of shooting talent to give their man advantage a significant upgrade.
Assuming the Devils don’t win the lottery and move up to the second overall pick, Holtz should be among their top targets with the sixth pick due to his makeup. They’ve drafted a few Swedish players recently, with Bratt in 2016, and Boqvist and Fabian Zetterlund in 2017. Adding another Swedish prospect in Holtz would be one of the best decisions they could make in this draft. Because if he’s their choice, he’d instantly become the best prospect in the organization. One who could be the consistent 30 to 40-goal scorer they need put around Hughes and Hischier to become contenders.