Why Alexander Holtz is the New Jersey Devils’ Trey Lance

Alexander Holtz #10 of the New Jersey Devils warms up prior to the game against the Detroit Red Wings on April 29, 2022 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Getty Images)
Alexander Holtz #10 of the New Jersey Devils warms up prior to the game against the Detroit Red Wings on April 29, 2022 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Getty Images) /

Once upon a time, the New Jersey Devils and San Francisco 49ers were two promising teams picking at the top of their drafts, and what happened next is every sports fan’s worst nightmare. In the 2020 NHL Draft, the Devils selected Alexander Holtz seventh overall, and in the 2021 NFL Draft, the 49ers picked Trey Lance third overall. Lance has already been jettisoned out of the Golden State, while Holtz heads into what is assuredly his last chance in New Jersey.

At the time of their selections, both players satisfied a need identified by their organizations. The 49ers wanted a big-armed quarterback to eventually take over for Jimmy Garoppolo, who had played more than six times in a season just once for the team up until that point.

The Devils were expected to take a big step forward in the 2019-20 season, and did the exact opposite. Jack Hughes did not have the rookie season that we hoped, and only six players scored 10+ for New Jersey that season. Taylor Hall and Blake Coleman were both traded, and no player scored 30 goals or 50 points.

Holtz was supposed to help remedy the goal-scoring problem that plagued the Devils for the past decade for good, but injuries and inconsistent play have made things difficult. The 21-year old has played parts of the last two seasons in New Jersey, and parts in Utica. Last year, it seemed Holtz had turned a corner, but the Swedish sharpshooter often found himself benched by head coach Lindy Ruff any time the team was not performing well.

In short, Holtz was exiled to the fourth line or made a healthy scratch, and by February he was back in the minors. The only issue is that the former seventh-overall pick missed a ton of time with an injury, and was limited to just 14 regular season games with the Comets. Holtz also went goalless through six playoff games, and with Tyler Toffoli in the fold, the writing is on the wall.

Holtz & Lance’s offseasons, and the future of the Devils

Much like Toffoli and Holtz, Lance also went into the 2023 offseason with a lot of pressure, thanks to the breakout of rookie and 2022 Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy. Still, the 49ers’ young signal caller was given every opportunity in training camp and in preseason to prove his worth to his coaches and team brass. After losing the backup quarterback job to fellow third overall pick and draft bust Sam Darnold, Lance was offloaded to the Dallas Cowboys for a respectable but also disappointing 2024 fourth-round pick.

We arrive at what is called the ‘sunk-cost fallacy’. The sunk-cost fallacy is a theory which, by definition, is when “a person is reluctant to abandon a strategy or course of action because they have invested heavily in it, even when it is clear that abandonment would be more beneficial”. The 49ers have avoided falling victim to this, because they identified that Purdy and Darnold, not Lance, would be more capable of spearheading the team’s offense, especially given their status as contenders. After all, the team was only a few years removed from a Super Bowl berth – a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs – led by Garoppolo.

The Devils are also expected to be contenders this year, following their record-setting year-to-year turnaround that saw them advance to the second round of the NHL playoffs. With Toffoli in the mix, Holtz will likely be forced to play a role not entirely suited to his skillset.

In the 2022-23 season, the Devils’ third-line right wing role was largely filled by committee, and often saw players like Tomas Tatar, Yegor Sharangovich, Jesper Boqvist, and Fabian Zetterlund play there. Therein lies the issue: all of these players were defensively responsible, and Sharangovich and Boqvist in particular were stalwarts on the penalty kill. The Devils are already stretched remarkably thin in that aspect, and Holtz is not going to become a penalty killer overnight.

The way Lance failed was basically that he could not show that, now or in the future, he would be able to take over. While comparing football to hockey is largely apples to oranges, it is easy to see why Holtz has not run out of opportunities quite yet.

Toffoli has only one year left on his contract at $4.25 million, which means two things: 1.) He can walk for free at the end of the year, and 2.) He will probably be due for a raise with the appropriate production this season. The 31-year old is a great player in his own right, but he is also coming off of his first season with 50 or more points since 2015, so extension talks will have to wait.

Holtz gives the Devils reason for pause. His age and perceived monetary cost, at the moment, will be boons for the team in the long run, but only on the condition that he reaches his potential. The Swede’s future depends less on Toffoli’s play and more on his own. If Holtz plays really well this season and cleans up his game, Tom Fitzgerald and the Devils will be forced to think twice about forking money over to the veteran, which cracks the door open to a path to the top-six.

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But, let’s not put the carriage ahead of the horse. First, Holtz needs to have a good enough summer to make the team and stay in the lineup, neither of which are layups. From there, the youngster can proceed to grow his game further. Tom Fitzgerald does not seem like the type to fall into the sunk-cost fallacy, and could just as easily bring Tatar or another vet in to buoy this well-oiled machine. Until then, Holtz is one hiccup away from becoming the next Trey Lance.