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PROSPECT WATCH: Holtz, a Coveted 'Pure Sniper'

Rookie Alexander Holtz fills a Devils' need for scorers and wingers

by Peter Robinson / Special to NewJerseyDevils.com

When you look at the Devils roster, it's easy to tell where its strength lies.  

Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, two No. 1-overall picks, both play center. Michael McLeod is in his first full NHL season playing down the middle, and Jesper Boqvist has played there in parts of the past two campaigns. Organizationally, Nate Schnarr and Tyce Thompson (and others) are with Binghamton and are just 22 and 21 years old, respectively. 

There is no such thing as too much depth on such a young, rebuilding team, but the Devils are probably OK at the position. 

Up front, it's on the wings, specifically goal-scoring ones, where the organization could use some help. 

Enter Alexander Holtz.

The 19-year-old Swede was selected by the Devils seventh overall in the 2020 NHL Draft. Does he perhaps see himself playing on Jack Hughes' or Nico Hischier's wing?

"That's my goal to someday play a top-six role," said Holtz during a recent phone chat. "It would be a dream of mine to play with Jack Hughes or Nico and score goals like that."

Viewed on their own, Holtz comments may seem like he's putting the cart ahead of the horse. But frankly, expectations should be high for a player that was selected seventh overall in a reasonably deep draft class. 

The Devils have never picked seventh, but they did get John MacLean sixth. He turned out alright. Pavel Zacha came in at the same spot six years ago. He's on his way. 

Seven? Here's a sampling from the past 10 years: Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg), Darnell Nurse (Edmonton), Ivan Provorov (Philadelphia), Clayton Keller (Arizona) and Quinn Hughes (Vancouver) were all taken at seven. Not a bad group. Edmonton took Jason Arnott in that slot before his move to the Devils and scoring that goal. 

Teams expect to get a good player and through the malaise of a pandemic, it appears as though the Devils have got one. Released from quarantine after a week at glancing at his hotel room walls, his phone and playing video games, Holtz stepped immediately into Binghamton's lineup for a game against Lehigh Valley. He had five shots, but no points. 

In a return engagement two nights later, he played with Thompson in a wild game where the B-Devils came back from a 5-1 deficit to tie it, but eventually lost 6-5. Though he has yet to register a point, he's shown flashes against the backdrop of adjusting to the transatlantic trip, the isolation and a new league. 

The scouting reports from last year's draft put Holtz's ability in proper context. He has the requisite size (6-foot, 180 pounds), decent skating ability and defensive awareness. But Holtz excels best in tight spaces with an excellent release - an enticing quality in the NHL. 

"Pure sniper," wrote Red Line Report chief scout Kyle Woodlief, "he could wake up from a coma and score two."

He was never in a coma, but that's exactly what Holtz did in Game 2 of Djurgardens' playoff series two weeks ago. Holtz added an assist in the victory, but his team eventually dropped the next game to Frolunda to end their season. His four points (2G-2A) led Djurgardens in playoff scoring. 

Holtz signed a contract with the Devils soon after and reported to Binghamton, where he is currently playing on an amateur deal (his NHL contract kicks in next season). 

He scored seven goals and added 11 assists in 40 games, sandwiched around leaving for a month to play in the World Junior in the Edmonton bubble. Sweden had a memorable World Junior, almost all of it for the wrong reasons. The coaching staff was decimated by COVID-19 cases and the Swedes lost a handful of players to positive tests as well, including top 2021 NHL Draft class prospect William Eklund, Holtz's Djurgarden teammate. 

"We even had problems on the plane," pointed out Holtz. 

After having an unfathomable 54-game winning streak in pool play, the Swedes finally lost in that round, to Russia in overtime. In that game, Holtz scored and started the play that led to the tying goal when his shot went in off his teammate, Noel Gunler. 

The Swedes were eventually eliminated in the quarterfinals by Finland. 

"It was still a good experience…I want to have one more (next season)," said Holtz, who remains eligible when the tournament returns to Edmonton in December. 

Holtz returned to Sweden after the World Junior nursing a back injury and was eased back into Djurgardens' lineup. 

Playing pro hockey as a teenager in Europe can be a poisoned chalice. On one hand, it's good to have developed to the point that the big club wants you. On the other, you are almost certainly going to be stuck behind players much older and more experienced. To wit, two of Holtz's teammates this season were former Devils Niklas Bergfors and Jacob Josefson, both of whom are more than a decade older than him.

Asked if he found that frustrating, he demurred. 

"I know what you're saying," he said, "It can be difficult, you come from junior, U-20s, playing a lot but if you want to play pro, that's what you have to do."

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