Devils Need to Keep Alexander Holtz in Utica for Now

Alexander Holtz’s impressive American Hockey League (AHL) season further elevated him into the spotlight as the New Jersey Devils’ potential goal-scoring savior. The 20-year-old had 26 goals and 25 assists in 51 games during his first full AHL season with the Utica Comets, but only two assists in nine games with the Devils during his underwhelming NHL call-ups. Holtz is a fantastic prospect, and may eventually prove to be an important piece of the team’s core, but he is not ready to be penciled in as a full-time NHLer just yet. Here are a few reasons why.

Pace Of Play/Skating

Holtz proved he can put up numbers in the AHL, but the NHL is a different beast. The former seventh-overall pick looked out of place in his nine NHL games last season because he skated alongside players who couldn’t consistently get him the puck to help him display his strongest asset: his powerful and accurate shot.

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

Holtz was pushed down the lineup to play with third and fourth-line players like Michael McLeod and Mason Geertsen because his skating and hockey IQ aren’t exquisite enough to match the speed of top six players like Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier.

Related: Devils’ Hischier Finally Had Breakout Season in 2021-22

Holtz is well aware of his lack of acceleration, as it was one of the only knocks against him during his draft year, so he’s worked with Jesper Bratt’s skating coach Andreas Ohgren over the summer to help improve his quickness, which should help propel him to the next level.

Until Holtz proves that he is able to apply the advancements he’s made, he will play bottom-six minutes when in New Jersey. His shot and offensive instincts are clearly NHL-ready, but he is better off starting in a top-line role with Utica to further hone his skating, pace of play and hockey IQ until he is ready to make the full-time jump onto one of the Devils’ top two lines.

Holtz’s Defensive Struggles

I understand that the Devils didn’t draft Holtz hoping he would become a Selke Trophy candidate, but head coach Lindy Ruff has demonstrated that he won’t consider players in his lineup who don’t play a complete 200-foot game.

Even though Holtz put up 51 points with Utica, he was a minus-3 in the plus/minus column, which was third worst on a team that was tied for third in the AHL with a plus-40 goal differential. He also recorded a Corsi percentage of 38.2 percent in his nine games with New Jersey, which was the third worst of any Devils’ skater from the 2021-22 season.

A player like Holtz needs to consistently play in the offensive zone so he can put his biggest assets to use, but his lack of defensive awareness often hemmed him in his own zone. This is a non-negotiable element in order to be a full-time NHL player.

A Crowded Devils’ Top 6

By no means were the Devils an offensive juggernaut last season, but Dawson Mercer and Yegor Sharangovich look to be on their way to developing into viable top-six wingers, just like Jesper Bratt and Ondrej Palat already are.

Related: Devils’ Bratt Now Among Team’s Building Blocks

Mercer recorded 42 points in his rookie year and was the only Devils player to skate in all 82 games last season and Sharangovich was third on the Devils with 24 goals in his second NHL season. Both players are very capable defensively, which currently gives them the edge over Holtz in New Jersey’s lineup, even though is more dynamic offensively.

If Holtz is able to improve his skating and pace of play while learning to become more cerebral in his own zone, his natural offensive ability should be enough to bump one of the aforementioned players out of a top-six role. Until then, he should continue to develop in Utica under head coach Kevin Dineen, who is known for helping young players develop into NHLers. If Holtz gets into a groove in the AHL, he will be called up by New Jersey sooner rather than later.

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