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Should the Devils Call-Up Alex Holtz?

One of the biggest points of contention among Devils fans this season is whether or not Holtz should be playing in the NHL. Today, I examine the arguments for both sides and reach a verdict.

NHL: OCT 04 Capitals at Devils Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’m going to try something a little bit different today, so bear with me. Inspired somewhat by Sean McIndoe’s Great Hockey Debate’s from the Grantland days, and somewhat by a project I had to do in grad school, this week’s post is going to come in the form of a debate. The topic, as I’m sure you gathered from the headline, is should Alex Holtz be called up to the NHL? I’ll examine the pros and cons as objectively as I can, and come to a verdict. At the bottom of the post will be a poll where you can vote on whether or not you agree with my verdict.

*As a disclaimer, this is not a reaction to last night’s game. It’s also not meant to be a “here’s what’s wrong with the Devils,” article (spoiler alert, it’s special teams, not that anyone could’ve seen that coming).

Opening statement from the Judge: Alex Holtz is a 19 year-old RW playing in his first full season in North America after being drafted 7th overall in the 2020 NHL draft. The 6’, 194 lb 19 year-old hails from Saltsjo-Boo, Sweden. Holtz spent last season with the same organization he’s played for since the 2017-18 season, Djurgardens IF of the SHL, where he put up 7 goals and 11 assists for 18 points in 40 games last year. He added 2 goals and 2 assists in 3 playoff games with the team. When his SHL club was eliminated, Holtz was brought over to North America by Fitzgerald and co, and played 10 games for the Binghamton Devils (now Utica Comets) of the AHL, producing a goal and 2 assists. Holtz has upped his production so far this season, and currently has 5 goals in 4 games with the Utica Comets, who have gotten off to a 4-0-0-0 start to the season (AHL standings are weird). With that background out of the way, I will now allow the pro side to present their first argument.

Pro side: Alex Holtz should absolutely be playing in the NHL right now. Holtz had a tough year last season, sure, but that’s in the past. Since the start of training camp this season, Holtz has been an impact player, making his presence felt in preseason contests where he put up an xGF% just shy of 53% (according to naturalstattrick), scored a goal that showcased his elite shot, beating the goalie clean with a lightening fast release,

had a beautiful assist on a Sharangovich goal that demonstrated his underrated passing ability, and he even scored a shootout goal.

Judge: Wait, he scored a shootout goal?

Pro: uh... yes.

Judge: For the Devils?

Pro: yeah

Judge: In real life?

Pro: Yes. Well, it was a preseason game, but I think that still counts as real life... can I get back to my speech now, or...

Judge: Right. No, go ahead.

Pro: Anyway, so Holtz showcased all of the traits the Devils saw in him when they drafted him in the top-10 of the 2020 NHL draft in training camp. There’s not much more they could’ve wanted to see from him, but, they decided to send down anyway. Which is fine, the preseason isn’t the same level of competition as a regular season NHL game and there are definitely areas of the game where Holtz could still improve. That said, he’s been dominant in his time in Utica, not only scoring over a goal per game, but averaging 4.5 shots per game. Only Three players have more goals than him, and those players have all played at least 3 more games. In case you were wondering, that’s really good. If sending him down was to allow him to adjust to the level of competition in the AHL or get used to North American ice, well, he’s adjusted. Holtz was drafted to score goals, and he’s done that better than nearly anyone in the AHL so far this season. He’s ready for the NHL.

Judge: Ok, and now let’s hear the first argument from the cons

Cons: Do you recall how Holtz started last season with his SHL club? he had 4 goals and 6 points in his first 8 games. Holtz is not unaccustomed to having a hot start to the season, but he cooled off significantly afterwards and was quiet for much of the second half of last season. A handful of preseason games and a four game sample in the AHL is just not enough time to declare Holtz NHL ready. Holtz may be a great shooter, but he’s not going to score on 28% of his shots as a pro. He’s on a shooting percentage bender right now and he will regress down to earth. Holtz is only 19 and while no one doubts his talent or offensive ability, giving him half a season or even letting him spend this season in the minors will allow him to better develop the other areas of his game, such as his skating and off-puck play, particularly defensively, which are thought to be weak areas for him. And the AHL schedule, with games mostly on weekends, will give him more time in the gym to put on some muscle so he can be ready for the rigors and physicality of the NHL game. Development requires patience and the Devils should play the long-game with Holtz, and not rush him to the NHL just because he had a hot streak to start the season.

Judge: Ok, both sides have had their chance to make their first statements, now we will move on to the second round. Pro side, your second argument?

Pros: I’ve talked about Holtz has earned a spot with his play, both in preseason, and at the start of the AHL season. Now let’s talk about what’s best long-term for both Holtz and the Devils.

The AHL is meant to be a developmental league. Therefore it would seem to make sense to allow a player who’s still a teenager to spend some time there to fully mature and work on rounding out his game with lower stakes than the NHL. But is that actually what’s best for him? The NHL may actually be the better league for development (shout out to CJ), with players who spend time in the AHL being less likely to succeed at the NHL level. Furthermore, holding Holtz back in the minors to work on his defensive game, when he’s dominating at the things he’s supposed to be good at (i.e. scoring goals) is a garbage model for player development. Holtz is by all accounts a player who is hardworking, determined, and coachable. If there is work to be done in some areas for him, let him do so at the highest level, where he can use the skills he is already great at to help the NHL club. Which lead me to what’s best for the Devils.

Calling up Holtz is a no-lose situation. Fitzgerald set the expectations for this year at playing competitive games late in the season, so it’s not like the bar for this team is so high that the Devils can’t afford to spend time bringing along a talented young forward. And with Hughes down with injury and the power play struggling to get going (to put it politely), Holtz offers potential for significant value added to the NHL roster. The Devils haven’t had a shot like Holtz’s on the roster in a while, perhaps not for over 8 years.

Judge: Con side, you may now deliver your final statement.

Cons: Making the jump to a different continent at 19 years old is a challenge for anyone and an NHL spotlight only adds to the pressure. I would posit this is especially true for athletes, who usually thrive on routines. If you or I live on fast food or are jet-lagged for a few days while we get settled in to a new house or apartment, the consequence is we might not look as good in a bathing suit next summer and we may be a little more tired for a few days/weeks. But for most of us it has very little impact on our career. Not so for an athlete. What Holtz needs now is some consistency. To call him up now, right when he’s settling in and having some success in Utica will potentially be making a difficult transition even more challenging for him. And then what happens if he isn’t ready for the NHL? The team keeps him around for a few games to try and get him going, then they end up sending him right back down. Now his confidence is hurt, he has to readjust to the AHL lifestyle again, and regain the chemistry with his teammates. It is best for Holtz’s development, and in turn, best for the Devils, to not yo-yo Holtz back and forth between Utica and New Jersey. Let Holtz get comfortable, have some more success in the AHL, and be completely sure he’s ready for the NHL before calling him up. If this means him spending the year in Utica, so be it. It’s better to overcook a prospect, than string them along without any consistency or long-term plan. And on top of this, Utica is currently undefeated. Holtz is learning how to win games and is a key part of that team, that’s a valuable lesson for his long-term development in itself.

Judge: Having heard arguments from both the pro and con sides, I am ready to give my final verdict. Alex Holtz.................... should be called up to the NHL. Both sides made fantastic points, but the shootout goal is what really tipped the scales for me.

I will now hear comments from the audience. Any comments or suggestions are welcome. Thank you for attending today’s debate.

Poll

Should the Devils Call Up Alex Holtz

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    Yes
    (446 votes)
  • 25%
    No
    (152 votes)
598 votes total Vote Now