Alexander Holtz’s current situation with the New Jersey Devils can only be described as awkward.
The former seventh overall selection of the 2020 NHL Draft currently resides on New Jersey’s fourth line alongside Chris Tierney and Nathan Bastian.
The interesting thing about it is that Holtz has actually shown some better flashes of his potential in his decreased role. However, after the return of Tomas Nosek, head coach Lindy Ruff left it up to speculation as to whether or not Holtz could be a healthy scratch Friday night.
At morning skate prior to the Devils’ matchup with the Washington Capitals, Holtz was rotating in and out of drills with Max Willman. Ruff explained he hadn’t yet made a decision as of Friday morning as to whether or not Holtz would play Friday night.
Holtz, in fact, drew into the lineup in his usual place with Tierny and Bastian. Yet, in the midst of New Jersey’s lackluster effort against the Capitals, Ruff shuffled his lines quite often.
“I switched up all the lines, and I kept on switching lines up,” Ruff said forcefully. “I was just looking for that little bit of energy somewhere because there wasn’t anything going on. There wasn’t anything going on for (Washington), really. There wasn’t much going on for us. And I was going to continue to switch lines. I started in the second and I went to different lines in the third. We talked as coaches where maybe halfway through that period, we’ll keep shaking things up. We had some guys I thought didn’t have enough for tonight’s game. Those guys ended up watching.”
Holtz was indeed one of those guys who ended up watching.
By the end of New Jersey’s 4-2 loss, the 21-year-old sniper had the least amount of ice time among Devils skaters with 7:05 of ice time.
How did he end up on the pine pony?
“Early on, I saw a guy that just needed to hang on to pucks,” explained Ruff. “I thought he threw some pucks away in the offensive zone. We needed to hang onto pucks and just be more determined. But it’s not about one player sometimes you just don’t make it into the top nine when you shorten the bench. You know we can look at (Tomas) Nosek just coming back into the lineup. I didn’t think he was quite up to speed but it was my choice to put him in the lineup. So you end up there and you have a chance in your first few shifts to be the guy that says I’m gonna be there all night.”
Holtz ended the night with no shots on goal and as a minus-one. The fancies, according to Natural Stat Trick, don’t paint the prettiest picture either. Holtz finished the game against Washington creating no scoring chances at 5-on-5, a 25.00 CF% and 27.09 xGF%.
Here’s the thing. New Jersey was certainly down and out of Friday night’s contest for about 50 minutes of play. If there was ever a time to elevate Holtz from the fourth line to try and create a spark, it was against the Capitals. Instead, he watched from the bench. It would have been less harmful to Holtz’s confidence had he just been a healthy scratch from the get-go.
It’s a puzzling situation. Holtz certainly hasn’t been perfect. Yet, there’s no doubting he’s a better player this season.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Holtz when the Devils return to full health. Nosek is already back in the lineup. Obviously, Jack Hughes and Nico Hischer will take their rightful spots in the top six. That leaves Willman who is still on recall, Holtz, and Chris Tierney fighting for ice time.
At this point, it feels like Holtz’s potential is being wasted away in the bottom six, specifically the fourth line. It’s a crowded top-six when the team is fully healthy. However, he can’t even crack the top nine with some major injuries. Perhaps Holtz could be part of the solution to retrieve defense from out west.