With Devils training camp about to get underway, there are some interesting players and story lines to keep an eye on.
The New Jersey Devils play hockey this month. Even for fans of a franchise that has had next to zero on ice success for the last decade, that is an exciting sentence to type, read and think about. It will begin with the prospects challenge in Buffalo from September 15th-19th, followed by the opening of full training camp on September 21st and the first preseason game on September 26th. So with all that in mind, what should Devils fans be on the look out for between now and the season opener on October 13th?
Alexander Holtz was selected by the Devils 7th overall in the 2020 draft. Since then, he has played in just 9 NHL games and registered only 2 assists. However, the 20 year old winger played almost all of last season in the AHL and was dominant for most of the year at that level. With Utica in the AHL last season, Holtz racked up 26 goals and 25 assists for 51 points in 52 games. Holtz would go on to add three points in Utica’s five playoff games. Entering the third season after his draft, and after proving to be more than good enough to contribute in the AHL, it is time for Holtz to earn his spot with the big club. The Devils finished last season 19th in the NHL in goals scored so adding more offense is absolutely needed. Holtz’s biggest asset has always been his shooting ability, but his skating and vision held him back at the NHL level. If he can build on what he learned in the AHL last year, as well as what he saw in his short NHL stint, as well as anything he’s been able to learn from working out with Jesper Bratt all summer, look for Holtz to crack the Devils opening night lineup. I would really like to see Holtz playing wing on the second or third line this season and hopefully scoring 20-25 goals playing alongside the likes of Hischier, Mercer, or Haula.
The Devils drafted defenseman Simon Nemec second overall in 2022. The right handed defenseman has played the last three seasons in the Slovakian professional league and looks to make the jump to the North American pros this year. Nemec is known to be a strong two way defenseman but has a lot of competition on the Devils right side. Dougie Hamilton, Damon Severson, and John Marino are all already well established NHL players on the right side of the Devils defense. In addition to those three, Nemec will be competing with Riley Walsh. Walsh, the Devils third round pick in 2017, had an impressive career at Harvard followed by a strong season in Utica last year. Walsh is known for his strong offensive game and may produce more points than Nemec but struggles more away from the puck. It will be fascinating to see if either of these two can force the Devils coaching staff to find a place for them on the roster this year.
The Devils selected Chase Stillman 29th overall in 2021 and it was immediately seen as a reach by some critics. Stillman did not impress offensively in the OHL last season, averaging less than a point per game after already being drafted in the first round the year prior. However, Stillman is known for his speed and ability to play in all situations. Reading reports on him and watching some of the film that goes along with that reminds me of a young Blake Coleman. If he can turn into an elite penalty killer that also scores around 20 goals per year, I think every Devils fan would sign up for that. I know I sure as hell would. (You can read a more detailed scouting report on Chase Stillman here)
This is a pivotal year for the Devils rebuild. Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt are entering year six, Jack Hughes is entering year four, Dougie Hamilton in 29 years old and Damon Severson is 28. The Devils window to compete should be opening wide this year as the team pushes for a playoff spot. I am excited to watch every second of it. You can follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth. Let’s Go Devils!