The case for Alex Holtz
JP Gambatese dives into the progression Holtz has made and why there's still hope for him to develop into an impact offensive winger.
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By JP Gambatese (@JP_Gambatese)
With Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Timo Meier, Jesper Bratt, Dawson Mercer, and now Tyler Toffoli, the New Jersey Devils’ top-6 seems set in stone.
What happens if there’s an injury, though? Or perhaps one of the seemingly cemented top-6 players is underperforming? Surely Ondrej Palat or Erik Haula would slot into that gap.
Or, maybe, Alex Holtz.
It’s seeming more and more likely that the leash on Holtz is shortening by the day. Dating back to the beginning of last season, Holtz didn’t do enough to impress to start the year, fell into lineup purgatory, got sent down to Utica, and somewhat underperformed there, too – at least on the scoresheet.
And now, with the addition of Toffoli, it looks as though Holtz’s days labeled as the surefire top-6 sniper are numbered.
Despite all this, I still think there’s a legitimate high-end talent to be had with Holtz. Although he didn’t make strides on the scoresheet in Utica this year (11 points in 14 games as compared to 51 in 52 last season), I’m of the opinion that his game drastically improved.
Rewinding a bit further, Holtz impressed in preseason play. He was part of the H2O line, with Hughes and Palat as his linemates, and found success quickly there.
He seemed to mesh quite well with the team and, despite some off-the-puck woes, looked ready to compete for a meaningful spot on the roster.
…and then came October, and Holtz didn’t even sniff being on a line with Hughes or Palat. Putting aside the success he found next to those two, he was placed most often with Yegor Sharangovich and Jesper Boqvist.
That’s not to say that Boqvist and Sharangovich are bad players – they’re alright – but they certainly don’t hold a candle to the likes of Hughes.
For the sake of this argument, I feel that it’s important to interrupt this story with a light analysis of the type of player that Holtz is: a passenger player.
He’s not going to drive play – moving the puck from one end of the ice to the other, pushing play forward – at elite levels. It’s just not his style. And, while that’s certainly not good, it’s not necessarily a problem.
Stick him with playdrivers, players like Hughes, Bratt, Hischier, and Meier, and that’s where Holtz will find the most success for his style of play. Let the speedier, more agile players who can dance around defenseman in transition do the leg work, find some open space, and prosper.
This was apparent even before he was drafted by New Jersey, too, as per EvolvingProspects’ 2020 draft guide:
“He supports the rush off-puck as a shooter should – dipping out wide, timing movements into the slot, initiating contact to have the ability to separate when desired.”
That isn’t the scouting report you’d see on a playdriver.
And yet, when he didn’t drive play playing next to Sharangovich and Boqvist, the reaction was not to put him on a line with playdrivers; it was to bump him down with lesser players. After Sharangovich and Boqvist, his next two most common linemates were Michael McLeod and Miles Wood.
As expected, he didn’t find success with them either. To reward him for that, he wasn’t even sent right down to Utica for more marination – he was put into lineup purgatory, constantly being teased with the prospect of playing for the main squad but never actually cracking the lineup.
After sitting in that state for way, way too long, he was finally sent down to Utica, where he promptly contracted mononucleosis, which – for reasons I won’t get into because I’m not a doctor – is notoriously hard on athletes.
Even still, fighting through a tough illness after not playing meaningful hockey for months, Alex Holtz posted a respectable 0.79 point-per-game clip in his 14 games in Utica. Where I would cite a small sample size as a fault here, it’s worth noting that he posted 51 points in 52 games in his previous season in the AHL.
Sure, the production wasn’t eye-popping, and his less-than-graceful transition from the NHL back down to the AHL probably left a lot to be desired. However, I’d still argue that he’s a player worth a flier in a top-6 role for this team, for a lot of reasons:
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