NEWARK, N.J. - For most European players, the biggest adaption to playing in the North American game is the ice surface.
Though the length of ice is roughly the same (200 feet vs. 196.9), the width in the international rinks are nearly 14 feet wider (85 vs. 98.4). The extra space allows for more space to beat players 1-on-1 and forces more defensive zone coverage breakdowns due to outstretched gap play.
Typically, Europeans prefer the extra ice because it allows them to work more with their speed and hands. But 19-year-old Swedish winger Alexander Holtz is the exception to the rule.
"You have smaller ice here. I think that helps my game more because I'm a shooter," he said. "You get into more shooting spots here on the smaller ice."
Video: RAW | Alexander Holtz 04.19.21
Holtz, New Jersey's first of three first-round picks (7th overall) in the 2020 NHL Draft, has a deadly release and a nasty shot. The tighter ice dimensions in the NHL means that he will always be positioned closer to the opposing net, unlike Europe. That also means no matter where he is in the offensive zone, with his quick release, he will be a threat to score anytime the puck is on his stick.
"I think it's better for my game. I like to shoot the puck fast and with a quick release," Holtz said. "I think you get into a lot of shooting opportunities everywhere in the offensive zone. That helps my game a lot."
Holtz, who arrived in New Jersey Friday to begin a seven-day quarantine, signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Devils Monday afternoon that will begin in the 2021-22 season.
"I feel so good. It's such an honor to sign my first NHL contract with the New Jersey Devils," Holtz said from his hotel room. "I'm really proud of it. I worked very hard for it. You can't imagine what it's like before you sign it. I'm extremely honored. It's so nice."
By the time Holtz is eligible to play, which will be not until this Saturday, there will only be 10 games remaining in New Jersey's season. The team smartly opted to not burn a year of his entry-level contract on 10 games, and instead also signed him to an American Hockey League Amateur Try-Out contract. That will allow Holtz to finish out the season with some AHL experience with Binghamton.
"It's a nice opportunity I get to play some games here before moving on to next season," he said.
Holtz, a native of Stockholm, spent his past season in his native Sweden with Djurgardens of the Swedish Hockey League, where he posted seven goals and 18 points in 40 games. He also saw action in the World Junior Championship, posting three points (1G-2A) in five games.
"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. "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."
Holtz, who has been spending his quarantine time with home workouts, watching movies, playing video games and talking to friends and family back home in Sweden, had planned on joining New Jersey for the 2021-22 season. However a first-round playoff loss, 2-1, to Frolunda in the opening round of the SHL playoffs accelerated the process.
"That was a little plan I had in my head," said Holtz of coming to the New Jersey next season. "Maybe not get this opportunity to play some games in Binghamton because I would rather be in the playoffs with Djurgardens. This is a nice opportunity that popped up, and I'm really looking forward to it."
Holtz, who stands at 6-foot, 192-pounds, is also looking forward to meeting some of his new teammates and getting back on the ice - he hasn't skated since his final game with Djurgardens on April 8.
"Stepping on the ice again. It was a while ago since we went out in the playoffs in Sweden," said Holtz, who has been playing tennis and staying active to keep his conditioning high with the two-week break he'll be off the ice. "Going back on the ice, meeting all the staff, meeting all the guys, of course. It will be a lot of fun when I get out of (quarantine)."
With Binghamton playing its home games in Newark this year, Holtz will have a chance to meet his new teammates, coaches and staff in the AHL and NHL, as both clubs share the Prudential Center venue. He is looking forward to the future and beyond in Jersey.
"It will be so fun. There is such a great group here," Holtz said. "Such a great group of players. I'm really looking forward to working with them and maybe playing with them in the future. They're such good players. I'm really looking forward to it."
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