It’s nearly impossible to not make comparisons between the three top Swedish wingers in this class: Lucas Raymond, Alexander Holtz, and Noel Gunler. All three have produced at the top of their age group for quite some time, and subsequently, played most of their season against men in the Swedish Hockey League.
Of the three, Holtz was the most productive point-producer at the SHL and in international play. Some feel that his play this year makes him the most “NHL ready” of the group, and salivate at the offensive potential he might have if he learns to generate more dangerous opportunities from high-danger areas. Let’s examine his game.
|Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|Djurgårdens IF||SHL||6'0"||183 lbs||5 - 9||#2 (Euro)|
The 2017-18 season was a coming out party for Holtz in many ways. Despite playing only half the number of games as many of the others in Sweden’s top U18 league, Holtz had 23 goals and 45 points in 17 games — the fourth highest point-per-game total (min. 10 GP) ever in league history. When play moved over to the J18 Allsvenskan for the winter season, Holtz had 18 goals and 29 points in 13 regular season games, and a ridiculous 11 goals in 6 playoff games as Djurgårdens won it all. Again, it’s the fourth highest point-per-game total in the history of the league, and gives Holtz peers like Elias Pettersson, Viktor Arvidsson, and Carl Söderberg.
As a 16-year-old, Holtz put up a point-per-game at the age appropriate U17s and Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and as an underager at the U18s as Sweden medalled in all three major tournaments. His regular season performance in the U20 SuperElit wasn’t in record company, but Holtz, Gunler, and Raymond were the top three in points-per-game among their peers that year, with Holtz putting up the league’s first 30 goal season since Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson in 2013-14.
That brings us to the present, where Holtz’s Djurgårdens squad felt like he’d done everything he needed to do at the U20 level, and made room for him to play among men for 35 games. His nine goals and 16 points led all draft-eligible skaters, and ranks 15th all-time in points-per-game — indicating the rarity of having draft-eligible players spend much of their time in the top league. His raw production rates higher than some other top Swedish forwards this past decade, like Lias Andersson, Carl Grundström, Pontus Åberg, Isac Lundeström, Nils Höglander, David Gustafsson, and Mika Zibanejad.
To read more about Holtz’s background and relationship with fellow star prospect, Lucas Raymond, read Scott Wheeler’s ($) profile on the two here.
Alexander Holtz (2020) with another goal in the game. His release is so quick and his shots are just so accurate. pic.twitter.com/wAjcENi4yR— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) August 30, 2019
Let’s just start with an analysis of Holtz’s shot, because it’s by far his most talked about tool. Whether it’s on the rush, entering the zone with speed, in tight with pinpoint accuracy, or from anywhere on the ice really, Holtz is a threat to score. If you’re a silly defender and don’t challenge him when he’s in a medium-danger area — like at the faceoff circles — you’re going to get beat clean most times.
While other players like Cole Perfetti, Noel Gunler, and Jack Quinn have all been talked about as having elite shots, what makes Holtz special is how well he utilizes his. It’s probably what makes his shot so transferrable to the next level, and how he’s managed to be near a goal-per-game pace regardless of the competition he’s playing against — in Sweden, or internationally. His offensive hockey sense is second-to-none, as he has good anticipation and can shift his positioning to fire from even the most inaccurate of passes.
Where he’s shown growth is his movement on the powerplay, where he’s often lined up on his off-wing, strong side, or here, in the mid-slot as a trigger man. You can see how he moves his body around to follow play and enter a soft area of the ice where he gets off a prime scoring chance:
Love the deployment of Alexander Holtz (2020) in the slot on the power play. Always keeps his feet moving and constantly looks to find a dangerous angle to park himself in should he get the puck. Great scoring chance here. #2020NHLDraft | @DobberProspects | @FCHockey pic.twitter.com/nNksSox9fl— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) December 3, 2019
The scouting reports I read for this article were mixed on Holtz’s next two attributes: his speed and his passing. Many noted that he had “above-average” speed, with a good top gear that can generate breakaways at the top level. However, there’s a need for him to work on his first couple of steps to make it more explosive, as doing that will help him transition better, and challenge opposing players defensively. Some scouts noted that they’d like to see him play with the pace and energy of a Lucas Raymond, as he’s moreso utilizing his speed when he senses a threat — sensing a turnover or seeing open-ice — as opposed to off-the-puck or with his crossovers in transition.
While he’s known for the shot, his passing ability appears to be underrated. In my view, these two skills go hand-in-hand: being a good passer while owning an elite shot only makes you a more dangerous offensive threat because opposing teams have to respect your teammates. Holtz showed an ability to find seams in the offensive zone and a willingness to let plays develop before finding his compatriots. He also wasn’t afraid to try highly skilled plays like this backhand saucer, cross-seam completion.
SHL Points/60 vs Time on Ice— Brandon Holmes (@BHolmes_Hockey) February 22, 2020
Alexander Holtz: 2.28 (12:42 TOI/G)
Lucas Raymond: 1.88 (10:16 TOI/G)
Noel Gunler: 1.66 (10:10 TOI/G)#LetTheKidsPlay
The way Djurgårdens treated Alexander Holtz, for the most part, is how I wish pro teams would treat their top young players. While Holtz was still up-and-down the lineup like the others, he started off the season on the team’s second-line, and was given top powerplay time to maximize his strengths. This is wildly different than the inconsistent treatment received by Gunler — despite Luleå not having many other young players — and Raymond’s stacked Frölunda squad. Holtz rewarded his coach, putting up top-end production relative to his ice-time and was able to contribute at both even-strength and on the powerplay.
EliteProspects’ Cam Robinson shared that among U18 skaters in the last 30 years, Holtz’s 0.26 goals-per-game in the SHL was third-best. The only two players who were higher? Markus Naslund and Peter Forsberg. Now that’s good company.
We have some tracking data for Holtz via the invaluable Finlay Sherratt. Here, we can see just how dangerous Holtz’s passing ability is relative to other players, and how he was an average transition player on entries and exits — something to be expected of a 17-year-old in the SHL. On a worrying note, while Holtz’s shot metrics look good compared to the other players in Finlay’s dataset, they look poor relative to his team. The SHL publicly tracks Corsi, Fenwick, and PDO and with it, we can see that Djurgårdens was a 53.07% CF% team this season, whereas Holtz was a 50.24% player when he was on the ice.
Some of the data painted a worrying picture of Holtz’s defensive play, and that’s been noted in the scouting reports. Let me make one thing clear: like Tim Stützle, any defensive deficiencies in his game isn’t because of a lack of effort. Holtz competes well, but isn’t overly physical — especially compared to Raymond — and can sometimes get lost along the perimeter. What I’d like to see is an engagement in defensive play from the offensive zone. When his team loses the puck along the perimeter, Holtz could be the first line of defence back to challenge the opposing puck carrier while aiming for a takeaway. He was known as a “transition wizard” in the junior leagues, but that ability — especially on breakouts — appeared to fall by the wayside against men this season. Working on his first couple of steps will help him close down on players quicker in the defensive end, rather than getting beat as a passive option who doesn’t engage right away. The folks at EliteProspects noted that Holtz has been one of the draft’s “hardest working prospects off of the ice and in the gym” — a sign that he knows he needs to add some components to his game from a speed and strength lens.
In his Scouching Report on Holtz, Will Scouch noted that Holtz had a worrying number of shot attempts from low-danger areas, as opposed to the medium- and high-danger areas that are more likely to result in goals as competition gets tougher. I think you can look at this in a couple of ways. First: scoring chances are counted as they are for a reason, and if Holtz wants to reach his 30+ goal potential at the NHL level, he’d be wise to listen to some of this advice. Scoring more goals via tips in the slot, battling in front of the net, or driving to the net will only help expand his range of offensive skills and make him that much more of a dangerous player. The fact, though, that Holtz has been that productive despite not generating as many dangerous attempts at the net as his peers is also scary from a growth perspective, because imagine what he could do if he was able to consistently generate attempts from dangerous areas? Ultimately, we see that even at his floor, Holtz is likely to be a regular 20+ goal scorer, but to reach his full potential, working on these aspects of his game could make him the next big Swedish sniper.
The Fit with Ottawa
Every draft, there are a few prospects who compete for the title of “top goalscorer”. Oliver Wahlstrom and Cole Caufield are two from recent memory, whereas Holtz, Jack Quinn, and Cole Perfetti are our candidates this year.
As opposed to the former two players, the three players have all shown an ability to generate their own goals rather than showcase a reliance on having a top playmaking centre. In particular, Holtz’s range of ways he can utilize his shot, his top gear, and the dual-threat option that exists because of his underrated passing ability makes him an especially tantalizing option at the top of this year’s class. There’s been many conversations as to just how many goals Holtz would have if he was on a top CHL team like the Ottawa 67s this year, and while we’ll never know, most estimation metrics have it higher than Quinn’s 52.
The Sens currently don’t have a premier, goal-scoring winger among their deep prospect pool. Josh Norris has potential as a centre, but Drake Batherson and Vitaly Abramov are likely to have more assists than goals and Alex Formenton’s totals likely come more from his speed rather than his shot. Holtz on the opposite wing of Brady Tkachuk would give the Senators a chance to let Holtz do his thing around the slot and in his comfortable medium-danger areas while Brady crashes the net and causes mayhem. Having linemates that can carry the puck and help out in transition will only let Holtz slip away from defences for a second, and he’s shown that’s all the time he needs to bury a goal in the back of the net.
“He has an elite level shot and he’s excellent at making himself available for a shooting opportunity. He doesn’t need much time or space to get the shot off his stick, and his shots are always hard and accurate. But he’s not a one-dimensional goal-scorer either because he’s also an excellent playmaker who creates scoring chances for his linemates all the time. He has great awareness – he always knows where he should be and where his linemates will be.” — Jokke Nevalainen, DobberProspects
“He has had exceptional talent to score goals among older players his whole life,” Eriksson said. “I mean, he has been doing that since he was 10. To be a good goal scorer you can be like Ovechkin and have a good shot, but you also need to be smart about where you position yourself, how you read the game, how you show up for rebounds or going to spots so playmakers can find you. He’s a smart player. He’s as ready to play the professional level as any young player.”
Henrik always gets great access with top Swedish players and this provides some good insight into 2020 draft-eligible Alexander Holtz as both a player and person. He was kind enough to add English subtitles for the North American audience. https://t.co/5tTSdR6cPn— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) March 17, 2020
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