Kristy’s Devils Mailbag: Line Combinations, Holtz & More

It is again time for Kristy’s Devils Mailbag! I reached out to New Jersey Devils fans on social media asking for questions, and once again they did not disappoint. Today, I will discuss preseason line combinations, Alexander Holtz, and where Dawson Mercer could find himself this season.

Q: Do You Think Head Coach Lindy Ruff Will Shuffle His Four Lines at Least for the Start of the Season Until He Finds the Most Effective Combinations, or Do You Think He Intends to Get It Sorted Out by Preseason’s End and Have Set Lines From Day One?

– Michael O.

Preseason is the perfect time to try various line combinations to see what will be successful. After Friday’s game, head coach Lindy Ruff talked about his team going into the next phase of training camp, which includes focusing on the lines. Over the past week fans saw the following players together:

Ondrej Palat – Jack Hughes – Holtz

Miles Wood – Erik Haula – Mercer

Tomas Tatar – Nico Hischier – Jesper Bratt

Andreas Johansson – Michael McLeod – Nathan Bastian

Johnsson – Yegor Sharangovich – Bratt

Wood – Mercer – Graeme Clarke

Miles Wood and Erik Haula New Jersey Devils
Miles Wood and Erik Haula, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Devils made their first round of roster cuts Friday night and the the team is now one step closer to their final roster. I believe there will be more shuffling of lines this upcoming week and he will take a closer look at some of his versatile players like Mercer and Sharangovich at both center and wing. I believe some lines like Palat – Hughes – Holtz could remain intact, but I think fans will see different variations at upcoming practices. It is difficult to say if he the lines fans see near the end of the preseason will stick, but there is no question that the coaching staff will put together combinations that they believe will be a recipe for success.

Q: Will Nemec Be the First Callup If One Of The Team’s Right-Shot Defensemen Gets Injured?

-Carl H.

In addition to Simon Nemec, the Devils have Kevin Bahl, and Reilly Walsh as options if Dougie Hamilton, Damon Severson or John Marino miss any amount of time. I am a firm believer that Nemec needs to focus on his development and adjust to living and playing in North America. There is absolutely no reason to rush him at this point with so many prospects in the pipeline. I believe Bahl would be the first player to be called up in this scenario. At this juncture he is in serious contention to become the team’s seventh defenseman and looks much more poised and comfortable on the ice than the second-overall pick.

Simon Nemec New Jersey Devils
Simon Nemec, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It is possible to see Nemec make his NHL debut at some point this season? Yes, but if the team needs to call someone up for an extended period of time, the Liptovsky Mikulas native should not be the team’s first option.

Q: Where Is That Pesky Dawson Mercer Gonna Play in the Lineup?

– @WarkSheek

If the team is healthy it is completely plausible to see Mercer play on the third line alongside Haula. On media day the Newfoundland native talked about how he anticipated he would be playing wing this season, and it seems that will be the case unless the team is down a couple of centers.

On Tuesday, Sept. 27, I caught up with Haula who said he has really enjoyed playing alongside the 20-year-old. Their chemistry has been evident even though it has been in a small sample size, and they could play a huge factor in the team’s success this season. If there is one thing fans learned last season, it’s that there was a weakness when it came to their depth, and Mercer dropping down to a bottom-six role helps rectify that concern.

Q: Is This The Year Holtz Plays a Top-Nine Role in New Jersey?

– Blain P.

It certainly seems like he has worked his way into a top-nine role. The coaching staff is giving him every opportunity to not only make the team, but make an impact. He has steadily been on a line with with Palat and Hughes through the team’s intersquad scrimmages and first week of the preseason. He’s appeared in two of team’s four games this week earning one assist on Tuesday night against the New York Islanders. Between those games he had six shots on goal averaging 17 minutes of ice time.

Alexander Holtz New Jersey Devils
Alexander Holtz, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Holtz has a fantastic shot and there is no denying his skill. The question I am left with is if he can perform at a consistent level for 82 NHL games. One of his weaknesses last season was his play along the wall and it is something that he has spent time working on. This is an area where Palat can really help mentor the young Swede. I would bet money he will at least begin the season with the Devils in a top-six role.

Q: Is This the Year We Finally Start Playing for Keeps?

– @garagedoor05

Will this be the season the Devils play meaningful games in April? Yes. General manager Tom Fitzgerald addressed a lot of issues this past summer including goaltending and finding depth at all positions. The addition of Haula could pay off dividends in making a playoff push if Hischier or Hughes gets injured for an extended period of time. Last season, the team lacked depth in all areas, which was exposed with the number of injuries the team dealt with.

Related: Devils’ Trade for Erik Haula is a Win-Win

Coach Ruff has stated multiple times this week he is looking for versatility and the team has it with Mercer, Sharangovich, and Jesper Boqvist who can be moved throughout the lineup. This season, the team has plenty of options if a large number of injuries occur, which is something we didn’t see last season. The guys in the locker room truly believe this is the time to make a playoff appearance, and thankfully are in a better position to handle adversity and remain competitive.

Q: Which Devils Players Do You Enjoy Watching the Most?

– @danbab1981

My eyes naturally gravitate to gritty and physical third-line players. I have an appreciation for heart and soul guys, like David Clarkson and Blake Coleman. With that being said, I have been following Haula’s career since he was with the Minnesota Wild, and I’m excited to see what he can bring to the Devils this season. Of course, it will also be interesting to see what Jack Hughes can do if he remains healthy for an entire season.

As always, thank you so much for all your questions and keep them coming via Twitter and Instagram. If you submitted one that I did not answer, it will be part of my next mailbag. The next edition of Kristy’s Devils Mailbag will be out on Nov. 1.


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