Prospects News & Rumors: OHL, Binghamton Devils & Holtz

Today’s Prospect News & Rumors column is a bit of a downer. We finally got the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) announcement we have all expected for some time. Plus, the Binghamton Devils confirm reports of relocation. We’ll stick with the New Jersey Devils as their top 2020 draft pick has landed in North America.

OHL Scraps 2020-21 Season

As the calendar flipped to March and then to April, we all figured that the OHL’s season was all but canceled. The province of Ontario continues to struggle with getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control. Last week’s cancelation of the 2021 Memorial Cup was the final nail in the OHL’s coffin, and it was a matter of time before the official announcement came.

Tuesday was the day that announcement was finally made:

“We have worked tirelessly with the Province and the Chief Medical Officer of Health for the past year on different scenarios and different windows of opportunity but the reality is the conditions in Ontario have never been right to start and complete an uninterrupted, safe opportunity for players to showcase their skills,” said OHL Commissioner David Branch in an official statement. “We owe it to our players and their families to be definitive. We were committed to return and play this season, but our hopes and desires have been dashed by the cruel realities of COVID-19.”

Ottawa 67's 2019 Eastern Conference Championship
The Ottawa 67’s celebrate their 2019 Eastern Conference championship, the last time one was won in the OHL. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.)

The league and local government officials had worked out the details to get back on the ice, but just before they could reveal their plan, the COVID-19 numbers got worse, and they had to pull back. The Return to Play initiative including the teams playing a shortened season in multiple hub cities. However, in the end, the Ontario government’s strong health restrictions made this impossible.

Hopefully, by next fall, Ontario and all of North America have a better grip on this seemingly never-ending pandemic, and all levels of hockey can return to some sort of normalcy.

Binghamton Devils Confirm Relocation Reports

Although there has yet to be any official word out of New Jersey, the Devils will be relocating their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate out of Binghamton, NY. Reports started to trickle out over the past few days, and they have officially been confirmed Tom Mitchell, who is the executive vice president of operations for the Binghamton operation.

“Extremely disappointing, especially to all the hockey fans in this community, to all of us that are involved here. I know one thing. Binghamton has been a strong partner in the American Hockey League for the better part of 50 years and we didn’t deserve this.”

From “Binghamton Devils relocating; Local management disappointed” Spectrum News – Trish Kilgannon, 4/20/21

When you head over to Binghamton’s official web site, you are greeted with this statement:

“To say our organization is disappointed in the news from the New Jersey Devils is an understatement. We are all deeply saddened and shocked. We want to thank all the fans and partners so much for your loyalty and dedication over all these years. To keep professional hockey alive in Binghamton, we are currently exploring all of our options. We have an exceptional geographic location and a building full of the required amenities and features to accommodate a professional hockey team. With that being said, we hope to see you all back here soon!”

Again, there has been no word on this from the NHL side, so we don’t know where their AHL team will play next season. The first and most likely scenario is they will call Newark, NJ home, where they have played this season. However, Kilgannon reports that the owner of the Utica Comets filed a trademark for “Utica Devils” earlier this month. The Utica Comets are currently under contract with the Vancouver Canucks, so this has many moving pieces.

Alexander Holtz Lands in North America

Regardless of the drama going on between the Binghamton organization and the Devils, they will be getting an exciting young player added to the roster for the final few weeks of the 2020-21 season.

New Jersey announced on Monday that they signed Holtz to a three-year, entry-level contract that will kick in at the start of the 2021-22 season. He also signed an amateur tryout (ATO) contract with Binghamton to finish this season in the AHL.

Holtz was taken with the seventh overall pick and was the first of three first-round picks for the Devils at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. He had seven goals and 18 points in 40 games for Djurgardens in the Swedish Hockey League. While those totals don’t jump off the page, you have to keep in mind that it is challenging for young players to get big minutes over the veterans in the SHL.

Alexander Holtz Djurgarden
Holtz has made the trek to North America. (Photo by ERIK SIMANDER/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP via Getty Images)

“I think I developed a lot this year. I had a good year before World Juniors. I played a lot with my team,” Holtz said during a press conference via video call. “But I think I developed a lot. I’m feeling stronger. I’m feeling faster, and so on. I feel like my shot is even better. I think I developed a lot and feel like I’m a much better player right now.”

According to the Devils, Holtz arrived in New Jersey on Friday and has to spend seven days in quarantine before he can play. That means he could be making his North American professional debut as early as this Saturday night (April 24) at the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. If not on Saturday, Binghamton has 10 games left on their schedule after that, so there will be plenty of chances to get him in the lineup when he’s ready to go.