For the first time in 130 days, the New Jersey Devils play a game tonight. Well, sort of, as the Devils prospects hit the ice for the first time in the 2021 Prospect Challenge in Buffalo.
While these games do not count towards any team record, the roster implications couldn’t be higher for many young players looking to crack the opening night roster. These games give rookies the opportunity to play other NHL teams for the first time in their careers and management will be looking for steps forward in player development.
The situation could not be any better for the Devils’ top line of Nolan Foote, Dawson Mercer, and Alexander Holtz. The trio of first-round picks are set up to dominate the flow of the game and apply pressure to the Buffalo Sabres’ defense.
Foote has an advantage over most of the players in this tournament. The 20-year-old is one of the few players and the only member of this line NHL as he recorded a goal and an assist in six games with New Jersey last season.
Foote needs to use all of his 6’4″ frame to get to the dirty areas on the ice. He’s most effective when he’s causing trouble below the circles. Couple his size with his slightly above average shot and he has the ability to dominate this entire tournament.
The rebounding opportunities will be there for Foote with a shooter like Holtz on his opposite wing. Mercer’s playmaking ability will be able to open room and give Foote the opportunity to showcase his game.
Mercer is the most intriguing prospect in the Devils’ organization. The 2020 first-round pick dominated in a shortened 2020-21 QMJHL season racking up 36 points (19 goals, 17 assists) in only 23 games with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens. Mercer followed that performance up with 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in nine playoff games.
Mercer’s offensive ability will be put to the test in Buffalo. The big question is will he be able to set up and open up ice for goal scorers Foote and Holtz? A solid performance at the Prospects Challenge would go a long way towards competing for a bottom six role with New Jersey.
When Mercer, surprisingly, fell to the Devils at the 18th pick in 2020, the belief was he could develop into a top six forward. The Prospects Challenge is his opportunity to take the first step forward in that process.
Holtz is the last piece and, perhaps, the most important part of this line. The 19-year-old was the seventh-overall pick in 2020 and will play a very important part for the Devils in the future. In past seasons, New Jersey’s need for a pure goal scorer has become increasingly evident. Holtz was drafted to be that goal scorer of the future.
Holtz struggled last season in time split between the Swedish Hockey League and the American Hockey League. In Sweden, Holtz did not see much playing time with Djurgardens IF and recorded only 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 40 games. He had the ability to try his game out on North American ice as he accumulated three points (one goal, two assists) with the Binghamton Devils.
For the first time in his career, Holtz will be in a Devils’ uniform showcasing his scoring abilities. Good goal scores tend to have the puck find them and Holtz should dominate the competition at the Prospects Challenge.Embed from Getty Images