Alexander Holtz Proves He Can Be Everything New Jersey Devils Need

Alex Holtz has had trouble keeping himself out of Lindy Ruff's doghouse, but his performance on Wednesday night shows he can be the kind of NHL player the New Jersey Devils have been hoping he could be.
New Jersey Devils right wing Alexander Holtz (10)
New Jersey Devils right wing Alexander Holtz (10) / Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

When the New Jersey Devils took Alexander Holtz with the seventh pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, it felt like a no brainer. Sure, superstar goalie Yaroslav Askarov and everyman Marco Rossi were still on the board, but Holtz was the dynamic scorer you want to build around, especially when you already have Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes in the fold.

Every offseason, the Devils told Holtz to work on the same thing. He has to get faster. He would try different things, and he worked a lot with fellow Swede Jesper Bratt, who is one of the fastest skaters on the team. He got a little better each season, but he never improved enough to take a full-time spot on the NHL roster.

For years, Holtz was clearly too good to toil in the AHL, but he wasn't good enough to secure a spot in the everyday lineup. Last season, he spent months as the extra forward, traveling with the team only to watch from the owner's box. Even this season, despite being a regular in the lineup, Holtz often finds himself a spectator. Instead of watching from the box, he's watching from the bench as Head Coach Lindy Ruff finds other suitable forwards to take his minutes.

On Wednesday night, Holtz might have put together the performance that will finally tell his head coach exactly what he's capable of. While the dynamic sniper didn't score any goals, he did everything else the Devils had been asking him to do. He won most of the board battles he was engaged in despite this being a very physical Washington Capitals team.

During one particular play, Holtz played a major role in what would end up being the game-winning goal. With the game tied and the Devils just recently giving up a two-goal lead, Holtz helped Michael McLeod score his first in a two-goal night.

As you can see in the above clip, Holtz uses his speed to draw the defenders back on their heels. He then takes a subtle movement towards the center of the ice, drawing both defenders with him. That leaves Michael McLeod to come in with speed. When he's engaged, he spins and throws a puck at the net, which gets past the overmatched Hunter Shepard.

Holtz finished the night with two assists, both first assists. He also had a few really good defensive plays, including one play in particular where he held up the stick of a shooter in a high-danger area in the second period. His defense was just as good as his offense, and it showed in the Game Score.

There, you can see Holtz was phenomenal at all three phases and in every zone. He was on the ice for three even-strength goals and none against. The final stats on Natural Stat Trick say his line didn't give up a high-danger chance at 5v5. Lindy Ruff said this is one of Holtz's better games in his postgame press conference.

Now, Ruff just needs to give Holtz more opportunities to prove himself. He needs to keep Holtz and McLeod together while it's working. They have similar skill sets that can build off each other. Holtz is doing all the small things that were once keeping him out of the lineup. Now, there's no excuse. He deserves to get 13-15 minutes per night, and he will reward this team by helping them win now and in the future.