When taken in the first round of the 2020 NHL draft, Alex Holtz and Dawson Mercer were expected to be major pieces of the New Jersey Devils’ future. That future may have come a little earlier than many predicted.
Holtz and Mercer entered training camp to get their feet wet. Their first National Hockey League training camp would give them the opportunity to play against NHL level competition for the first time. Not only have they adjusted, the pair of first rounders have played their way into major consideration for the opening night roster.
With less than a handful of forward spots up for grabs, have the two done enough to take the ice on October 15 against the Chicago Blackhawks?
Let’s start with the seventh-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. Holtz was selected to be the Devils’ sniper of the future. Whether or not Holtz makes the opening night roster this season does not change his career outlook, but his projected role could come sooner than many imagined.
Holtz has accumulated two goals and two assists in three preseason games. The biggest standout of Holtz’s game so-far has been his NHL caliber shooting ability.
Holtz is the type of player that needs volume. In Sweden, he found the most success playing top-six minutes. The biggest question surrounding Holtz is whether or not he can succeed playing third or fourth line minutes.
The original plan seemed to be that Holtz would start the year on the top line for the Utica Comets of the AHL. This may still be the plan but another successful showing in the final preseason game may be enough to get him onto the opening night roster.
Roster Chance: 65%
Holtz has earned the chance to play on October 15. The question is whether or not head coach Lindy Ruff will want to insert him into the top-six while taking minutes away from another player. A strong showing in the team’s final preseason game Thursday would go a long way towards making the opening night roster.
If Holtz is not on the roster, then expect him to be one of the first call-ups as the season progresses.
Mercer has forced his way into the roster consideration with his strong two-way play as well as hit playmaking and finishing ability. He came into camp coming off an outstanding 2021 season with Chicoutimi of the QMJHL. In 23 games, Mercer recorded an impressive 36 points (19 G, 27 A).
Mercer has stayed hot in the Devils’ preseason as he has one goal and two assists in three preseason games. He has also been strong on the defensive side of the puck and put his transition ability on display.
Mercer is most valuable as a center and there were no center positions available when training camp opened for the Devils. As camp wore on, forward Pavel Zacha has ended up playing more wing, with Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, than center. This positional move has opened up third line center position as well as a roster spot for Mercer.
Roster Chance: 90%
The 2020 18th-overall pick has earned the right to be on the opening night roster. Unless there is already a plan in place for him to start the season in Utica, Mercer will be the third line center for the Devils on October 15.
Both of these young players will be staples in the Devils’ lineup in the future. In the present, they have each earned an extended look heading into the regular season.Embed from Getty Images