With the injury to Nathan Bastian, the New Jersey Devils called up Alexander Holtz at the start of this past week, giving him another shot to prove that he deserves more time in the NHL, and that the Devils should eventually give him 10+ games here this year and burn a year of his ELC. He is up to 6 games played so far with New Jersey, so the team can only use him a few more times before having to make the ultimate decision about his contract.
While here the last two games, he has played on the third line with Yegor Sharangovitch and Jesper Boqvist. As I wrote about last week, this line has not necessarily always been great analytically each and every night, back last week especially when Fabian Zetterlund was given some time on the line. So I was interested to see how Holtz would affect that line this week, as it could speak to his underlying success or failure with the team at this point, and in turn, how it would affect his usage moving forward.
To point, here are the basic numbers for that line over the last two games thanks to Natural Stat Trick, with numbers being at 5 on 5:
As you can see, overall, these are solid numbers, especially for a third line. The game against New York was especially great. That line combined for 5 attempts for versus only 1 attempt against, and that is despite not having a single faceoff in the offensive zone. This led to a beastly xGF% at nearly 86%, and that line also was on the ice for the team’s second and game tying goal thanks to Sharangovitch. It was a promising start to the week together, and it made the loss of Bastian a non-issue.
Thursday night against Nashville was not as dominant, but also not bad. The line was even in Corsi attempts, generating and allowing 7 each way. But their expected goals for was still definitively positive at just over 63%, a very strong number. Interestingly, this time around the line had no defensive zone draws, instead getting 2 in the offensive zone and 3 in the neutral zone. So despite the better zone starts, they had worse numbers against Nashville. Of course, Holtz also had a goal in that game, so that is a major plus right there.
I think when you look at this line’s production, you have to be happy with what it has given the team over the last two games while Holtz has been there. It has not been pinned down and beaten consistently, it has not been a line that has had trouble maintaining momentum and tilting the ice against the opposition. In fact, this line has been pretty solid in keeping the ice tilted in New Jersey’s favor, especially in the game at the Garden on Monday. Any time you are getting both a CF% and xGF% at or above 50% from the 3rd line, especially with a rookie in Holtz on that line, you have to like it.
So, the next question then is whether Holtz is actually helping the line or is being totally carried. To check that, here are the WOWY numbers for Holtz and the other two on the line over the last two games:
So as you can see, in the game Monday night Holtz’s numbers dropped pretty significantly when not on the third line. His xGF% was nearly at 0% when elsewhere, but was well over 50% when with his line. Granted, the time without was small, less than 2 minutes of ice time without Yegor or Boqvist, but still. It shows that he might’ve been helped on his line, possibly carried a little. But the numbers from the Nashville game show a much better story for Holtz. His numbers were better when elsewhere, which makes you think he wasn’t just an anchor on his own line but was also helping to drive play forward with his linemates as well. Again, his time without those two was small, less than a couple minutes, so it is a small sample size and should be taken with a grain of salt, but overall, it shows that he wasn’t totally carried in these games, especially on Thursday night.
Two games in since his return to New Jersey, I don’t think you can be too upset with how Holtz has been doing. He has a goal, which is the main thing he is here to do, and his third line has been playing solid hockey, with positive numbers in both games. I am not sure if it is worth burning a year of his ELC and keeping him up long term, but if that did happen, and he ended up playing like this across the rest of the year on the third line, you wouldn’t be too upset with his performance and would have to think that he is showing quality growth. I would probably still send him down sometime next week and wait until next year to give him a long term shot in New Jersey, but he is showing right now that while he might not yet be a top 6 winger who can score often, he is not outmatched on a third line, complementary role, and he should only continue to grow from there.