The 2022-23 season for the New Jersey Devils was a revelation that general manager Tom Fitzgerald’s blueprint is working. Over the years, New Jersey has drafted and developed the majority of their core players. After his body of work this summer, Fitzgerald has locked most of them up long-term. Part of the Devils’ GMs blueprint was to identify which players were the pillars of New Jersey’s organization. In the same breath, Fitzgerald included prospect Alexander Holtz as a pillar, giving you a sense of how the organization values the former seventh overall pick in 2020.
“That was really the start of the blueprint of where we wanted to go,” Fitzgerald explained in an episode of Murphy’s Hockey Law Podcast. “Identify the pillars. How are we going to build around them with the current group we have? Who stays? We identified guys we’d probably have to move on from. Then go out and find players that can come in and surround our core with winning habits, with pedigree. Then, continue to build through the draft and player development. My team has done a pretty good job at checking the boxes on the things we said we were gonna do and sticking to a game plan. I think that’s why we’re seeing some success on paper, and some buzz in the air.”
One year after he was drafted, Holtz played full-time for the Devils American Hockey League affiliate Utica Comets. In fact, Holtz played so well in the AHL that New Jersey even gave their then-top prospect a nine-game look in the NHL. The Sweden native didn’t pot a goal in his first taste of the NHL. However, he did record his first two assists. As for his first full professional season in North America with Utica, Holtz scored 26 goals and 51 points in 52 games. Holtz’s close-to-point-per-game had many view him as one of the league’s top rookies among names such as J.J. Peterka, Jack Quinn, and Marco Rossi.
From the very beginning of the 2022-23 season, Holtz was given every opportunity to earn a spot full-time in New Jersey. From the first day of training camp, Holtz rounded out a line that consisted of Jack Hughes and newly signed Ondrej Palat. Although the trio looked strong together in the pre-season, Holtz ultimately didn’t stick in the lineup during the regular season.
“Going back to my blueprint, we went through each year,” Fitzgerald explained. “Where were our expectations? We called it the ‘learn to win phase’ by understanding what it takes to win in hockey. Understanding time management of the puck, understanding blocking shots, etc. We just called it the ‘learn to win phase.’”
Holtz found his way in and out of the lineup for 19 games during the 2022-23 season. He eventually scored his first NHL goal and totaled three goals and four points in his small sample. In the AHL, Holtz scored six goals and 11 points in 14 games. However, he missed a decent amount of time due to injury.
His 2022-23 season didn’t go exactly as Holtz, nor the Devils had planned. However, there’s no reason to sound the alarms just yet. Hotlz remains a ripe 21-year-old and still has plenty of time to develop into what New Jersey envisioned him to be. In fact, there’s a spot up for grabs on New Jersey’s third line, and it appears he and Nolan Foote will battle for it through the preseason. Regardless, there’s little doubt that the Devils’ GM keeps Holtz’s status as a prospect in his system in high regard.
“It was easy to identify what we call ‘the pillars,’” Fitzgerald said. “Jack Hughes was in the middle of his 18-year-old year. Nico (Hischier) was just coming out of his entry-level contract. Jesper Bratt was in the first year of that bridge deal. I identified those three in particular as pillar players. How we were going to build around them with important character players. But, also build through the draft to try to add to the core pillars such as the Dawson Mercers. We believe Alexander Holtz will be a pillar.”