Newark, N.J. — It’s literally only been one day of training camp. However, New Jersey Devils Alexander Holtz is making himself noticed early.
From the get-go, Holtz is skating on the top line of his group. Rounding out the trio with Holtz is Nico Hischier and Timo Meier. Although it’s too early to get excited about his deployment, playing with the big dogs is a good sign.
It appears the Devils are going to give Holtz every opportunity to make the opening night roster, although the competition will be stiff. Holtz is up against fellow prospects Nolan Foote and Graeme Clark, as well as veterans Tomas Nosek and Chris Tierney for a roster spot, among others.
General Manager Tom Fitzgerald has never been one to rush his prospects. He’s repeatedly said that about Simon Nemec who just might be ready for a role in the NHL. However, Fitzgerald and Head Coach Lindy Ruff aren’t in the business of handouts. Nemec will have to earn it. As will Holtz.
“Sometimes we have to remember that they’re young,” Fitzgerald explained following the first day of training camp. “He came over here as a 19-year-old. Expectations of an early first-round pick are extremely high. But, he’s a kid, it takes time. These guys will pop when they pop. Last year when he first came over, I thought he acclimated himself great to Utica. He played extremely well offensively. He’s got a lot to learn away from the puck as well. Coach (Ruff) isn’t gonna throw him on the ice if he’s not committed away from the puck. So that’s just been an area that we wanted him to get better at. The other area is playing with a little more pace. That’s not skating faster. It’s more thinking faster, reacting faster, and anticipating quicker. If that happens, next thing you know it looks like his legs are moving faster”
Well, Holtz definitely improved his speed. During simulated line rushes, Holtz displayed a pace North to South that was noticeably faster than last fall. His edgework looked equally as impressive. Fortunately for Holtz, Fitzgerald noticed.
“That being said, he looks like he’s in he’s in great shape,” Fitzgerald continued. “All tests reveal that he’s in the top shape he’s been in in the last three training camps.”
Lindy was a little more candid about Holtz’s apparent progress.
“If I had to judge it on just watching over the last few days, by watching him skate leading up to camp, I think he wholeheartedly made a big effort to increase his pace,” Ruff explained. “Tom mentioned that your play away from the puck has to be solid as a young player. I think we do take that for granted. Sometimes we think ‘Oh, he’s 19, 20 (years old), he should know by now. It takes time. Sometimes it takes a year or two.”
“But, I can honestly say that what I saw in practice was much different than what I saw last year. It’s only one practice but I watched him two days ago and I was impressed with how he was moving on the ice. I think he realizes that it’s an important time for him. It’s been a couple of camps. He wants to make a push to be part of this team.”
Holtz’s development isn’t just a player coming back from summer older and wiser. He put in the work. The 21-year-old forward explained that he worked with Jesper Bratt and his skating coach back home in Stockholm, Sweden. As a result, he’s more confident in himself than ever.
“I feel much more confident in myself,” Holtz said. “That’s huge, especially for my game. I always believed in myself, but I will say I believe in myself extra this year.”
At the end of the 2022-23 season, the Devils were transparent with what they wanted him to work on. So far, it’s translated on the ice.
“They wanted me to work on my skating, get faster, and be more competitive out there,” Holtz said. “Every practice, every time you show up to the gym, just get that kind of mentality. I really feel like I put that element in myself, I had a huge summer.”
“I just want to be faster right now. 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.”
It’s just one practice on the first day of training camp. No one is writing Holtz’s name on the 2023-24 Devils roster in ink. However, his speed, pace, and intensity on the ice have noticeably reached a new level. The GM, the coach, and the players in the locker room have noticed; we noticed in the seats.
The Devils are already stacked with a plethora of weapons. They’re a team that’s already predetermined to continue doing great things this season. However, if Holtz turns the page from top prospect trying to find his way to impact NHLer, New Jersey will become that much more dangerous.
“Me and Holtz skated a lot this summer,” Bratt said. “He had a really good summer. I felt it already in our skates. Some guys that are skating with us here now, and the captain skate already came up and told me, ‘He looks faster. He looks like he has been skating a lot. He’s really getting that high speed and intensity in his game up.’ I think it was a great offseason for him and I think he’s ready for a great season.”