Even though it was only the New Jersey Devils’ first preseason game of the season, two players are making strong cases to make the team come the start of the season. Not only that, but these two players stood out in the prospect tournament and in the intrasquad scrimmage as well. These two players are Alexander Holtz and Dawson Mercer. Both players are playing really well and if they are continued to be put in the right position, do not be surprised if they get a nine-game look to start the season. And if they exceed expectations, a full-time roster spot awaits them.
Alexander Holtz and Dawson Mercer Continue To Stand Out
Entering training camp, Holtz and Mercer had a leg up on the competition. Both were part of the rookie prospect team that went to Buffalo to play in the annual prospect tournament. The Devils drafted Holtz seventh overall and Mercer 18th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft. Neither made the team during the 2020-21 season, but both came into training camp looking to fight for a spot this year. And with the offensive holes the Devils have, why not? Especially when it comes to goal scoring. Just look at the history of the Devils and rookies making the opening night roster.
If these two players have a good preseason or training camp, they normally get a look to start the season. During the 2017-18 season, Jesper Bratt made the team out of training camp. His worth ethic was the reason why he took a spot away from another player. And that can happen this year with Mercer and Holtz.
Mercer and Holtz have that same worth ethic and are bringing the competition to the veteran players on the team. Mercer put it perfectly when he talked about the competition on the ice. He does not view any player as a rookie or a veteran, he views them as competition. Mercer believes and has confidence in his game to where he is going to make management think long and hard about his spot on the team.
Holtz Can Be The Goal Scorer The Devils Need
Ever since arriving at camp, these two 2020 draft picks have been paired together on a line. And they had instant chemistry with Nolan Foote. In two prospect games, the line combined for seven points. And that continued into training camp and intrasquad scrimmages. So the grit and determination are there for Mercer and Holtz to make the Devils. Not to mention, the Devils have needs to fill and these two players are perfect for those roles.
One area the Devils are in desperate need of is goal scoring. Alexander Holtz fills that role perfectly. One of the reasons the Devils drafted Holtz seventh overall is because of his shot. It is something he prides himself on and continues to work on as he told the media at the start of training camp.
“I want to be a top-scoring winger, of course. That’s my main game. I worked on my shot my whole life, so that’s what I want to show the fan base and show the staff here, that is what I can bring to the table.”
And that shot was on display in the first preseason game as he played alongside Jack Hughes and Yegor Sharangovich. Again, it is the preseason, but Holtz does not look out of place and his shot is NHL calibre. Holtz ripped a shot past Washington Capitals goalie Zach Furcale in the second period. The Devils have needed someone like Holtz for a very long time. In addition to his shot, Holtz is showing his ability to set up plays as well. This is an area that is underrated in his game.
Mercer Continues To Impress At Center
Another area of need the Devils need to fill is down the middle at the center position. There is competition for the third and fourth line center positions. But if Dawson Mercer continues to play like this then management will have no choice but to put him on the opening night roster. Ever since the puck has dropped in Devils training camp, Mercer has come with an attitude and ray of confidence. And that has translated to his play on the ice. During the two-game prospect tournament, he was the team’s best player. And during the Devils’ first preseason game, Mercer stood out again. He tied the game at 4-4 at the beginning of the third period after having opportunities all night to put one home, the bounces finally went his way.
If you back to the prospect tournament and the intrasquad scrimmage games, Mercer has goals in four straight games he has played in. Now again, it is the preseason and scrimmages, but Mercer continues to make an impact on the ice. It is not going unnoticed by the coaching staff. Mercer can play either the third or fourth line. And even though the team would like to see Pavel Zacha play center, he is a better winger. His other competition is Michael McLeod. And McLeod can play in either spot as well. In the Devils’ first preseason, Mercer saw action on the fourth line.
If Dawson Mercer continues to do the things the coaching staff asks and continues to play with this confidence and shows he is ready for the NHL, the Devils will have no choice but to put him on the opening night roster.
If both make the team out of camp, they need to be put in situations to succeed. Both players will most likely get a nine-game look coming out of training camp. And if neither is going to be put in a position to succeed, then let them develop together in the AHL. There is no harm in being overdeveloped as the Devils do not need to rush when the future is so bright.
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