Newark, N.J. — On day two of New Jersey Devils training camp, two of the three groups hit the ice for a scrimmage. Group A features Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, and Tyler Toffoli, among others, skated earlier in the day. They’ll scrimmage on Saturday. It was Groups B & C that faced off on Friday.
Let’s take a look at three takeaways from the Devils scrimmage that took place on Day 2 of training camp.
Simon Nemec looks like he belongs
The Devils opened their scrimmage with Simon Nemec on the top pair of Group B. The New Jersey prospect stood alongside John Marino. At puck drop, on the opposite side of the ice from Nemec was the trio of Erik Haula, Ondrej Palat, and Dawson Mercer. The opening draw went Group C’s way and the trio of forwards created a rush chance with Nemec and Marino retreating into their own zone. A cross-ice pace from Mercer intended for Palat was quickly broken up by the stick of Nemec, who then quickly skated the puck away from danger.
Whenever Group C’s top dogs hit the ice, Nemec always followed. The 19-year-old defenseman has done an excellent job displaying positional awareness, the ability to create room for himself while handling the puck and transitioning the puck quite well from one end of the ice to the other.
As for the offensive side of the ice, Nemec looks plenty comfortable. He’s shown comfortability in walking the blue line, distributing the puck, and creating shooting lanes for himself to create scoring chances.
“His overall game is starting to improve,” Head Coach Lindy Ruff said following the scrimmage. “Going from last camp to this camp, his defending is improved. He’s got a lot of confidence when he gets the puck and I think that he understands the NHL game a lot better.”
Mercer picks up where he left off
Mercer ended last year scoring a goal in Game No.82 of the regular season. It’s only a scrimmage, but he’s picked up right where he left off.
As stated earlier, his deployment has been with Palat and Haula. That’s potentially one of the best third lines in the NHL if it sticks.
Mercer plays a big game. He’s not afraid to stand at the top of the opposing goaltender’s crease and grind for goals. In fact, that’s how he scored the majority of them last season. In close and below the dots.
That trend continued during New Jersey’s scrimmage between Groups B & C. Mercer’s group found themselves down 1-0 heading into the second of two 25-minute periods. In just the first few minutes of the second period, Mercer scored at the top of the crease close on the backhand to tie the game. Just a few minutes later, he scored again in the exact same way.
Mercer broke out last season for 27 goals and 56 points and looks primed for another big season in year three.
Holtz doing the little things
We know he can score, that was never in question. However, the question coming into this fall was if everything else about Alexander Holtz’s game would click.
On Thursday we learned that Holtz has come into camp in excellent shape. Yes, it’s “the best shape I’ve ever been in” season. However, for Holtz, that rings true.
The pace of Holtz’s game has evolved from last fall. He’s moving his feet a lot quicker. The 2020 first-round draft pick is keeping pace with his linemates Timo Meier and Nico Hischier. But, he’s doing the little things well, too.
In all three zones, Holtz is showing positional awareness. He’s making sure he’s in the right position defensively to disrupt passing lanes, and offensively to manage the puck. One of the more impressive things about his game right now, too, is that he’s winning puck battles along the boards.
The Swedish prospect spoke on Thursday about how doing all the little things will round out his game.
“I just want to be faster right now,” Holtz said. “More control of everything when I turn and stuff. When I switch from side to side, I feel like everything does come more comfortably. If you have that, that improves your game you feel more confident out there and that’s huge.”
An increased pace to Holtz’s game has shown thus far. He even cashed in on a scoring chance to tie the scrimmage at three and send it to overtime. According to the Devils head coach, Ruff wished Holtz actually would have cashed in on a few more chances but claimed that was “knit-picking.”
“His skating just looks stronger,” Ruff said Friday afternoon. “He’s a faster player. More comfortable out there.”
As of now, it’s all coming up Holtz.