When Alexander Holtz was drafted 7th overall by the New Jersey Devils in 2020, it was for one main purpose: to score goals. The Devils were absolutely miserable at creating offense for a bunch of years leading up to that draft, the one Taylor Hall Hart Trophy season not entirely included, and it was obvious that the team needed a pure goal scorer. Apart from Kyle Palmieri for those years, most of the quality offensive players that the team had were playmakers, not snipers, and Holtz represented a change to that, a complementary piece to add scoring to this team from the top 6.
Fast forward to now, and Holtz is finally starting to cash in on that promise. Through 21 games this year, Holtz leads the Devils in 5v5 goal scoring with 7. The only other Devils player above 5 is Jesper Bratt, putting Holtz into the exact category he was meant to lead when drafted. Get him the puck in the offensive zone, ideally in space, and let him snipe away. Holtz has yet to score on the power play and thus does not lead the team in overall goals, but he’s also only played about 30 minutes of power play time so far and is not on the top power play unit, so a little slack has to be given in that scenario. Plus, comparatively speaking, he is much more valuable scoring in the 5v5 setting for this club, where there is a much bigger need for it.
Now, when you take a deeper look into his numbers so far this year, they are honestly nothing to write home about. Here are some core numbers for him at 5 on 5 this year, and his rank on the Devils in that category among all players with at least 50 5v5 minutes, thanks to Natural Stat Trick. 22 skaters made the list.
So the two categories here that Holtz is doing very well in, compared to the rest of the team, are the categories that could suggest regression. His goals for is over a point and a half better than his expected goals, and ranks him 4th on the team versus 17th out of 22 in expected goals. This is propped up, of course, at least partially thanks to a strong PDO over 1.0, good for 4th on the team again. But everything else there is subpar when compared to the rest of the skaters on the team. His Corsi is 18th out of 33, expected goals 17th, and high danger attempts 19th. Now, to his credit, he does have an offensive zone faceoff percentage below 50%, so he is not being sheltered with his zone starts which is a good sign, but it isn’t the entire answer for why his possession and expected goals numbers are so low when compared to other Devils.
In truth, these numbers say that he has been extremely opportunistic in reaching his 7 5v5 goals. His shooting percentage sitting at 18.4% is partially the reason for that. He has 7 goals on only 38 shots, so that could also come down somewhat as the season progresses. But the question is this: how do we evaluate this season for him so far? Is he playing poorly because he has relatively weak underlying numbers, at least when compared to the other guys on the team? Or is it a strong first portion of the season thanks to leading the team in 5v5 goals, doing exactly what he was drafted to do? It makes for a worthy discussion and an interesting debate.
In sports, in the end, what matters most is producing and winning. And Holtz is producing like he is supposed to, regardless of the underlying numbers and how he might have gotten here. Is it concerning how he got here? Yes. Do those numbers indicate he might not be able to keep up the scoring pace? Again, yes. But for now, he has scored, and he has done what he is here to do. So for now, while we can be nervous about regression, we have to be happy with the production, at least as far as I am concerned. If he can somehow manage to keep up a strong 5v5 scoring pace and can end up at or near the top of the team in 5v5 goals when the season is done, that will be a major success for him, no matter what the underlying numbers say. Now, odds are he might not get there after 82 games if regression does come like the numbers suggest it might, but he could also continue to improve as the season moves on, and his underlying numbers could also improve, it is possible. That would be ideal, obviously, but for this Devils team, they just need him to keep scoring those goals.