By Jason Shaya
Jul 28, 2022
The Utica Comets’ opening game of the 2021-22 season took place in front of a sold-out crowd inside the Adirondack Bank Center on a Sunday afternoon against the Rochester Americans. It was the first time since the 1992-93 season that a team in Utica was representing the New Jersey Devils organization as their AHL affiliate. No one was quite sure what to expect from the new-look Comets team. Before the season, one player garnered more attention than any other– highly touted Swedish prospect, Alexander Holtz.
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils with the seventh overall pick in the first round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Holtz made his mark playing for Djurgårdens IF in the Swedish Hockey League. The quiet kid from Stockholm averaged almost a goal a game for the Djurgårdens junior team when he was only 16 years old. One thing was clear: the Devils drafted a young, talented player that they believe will be a goal scorer at the NHL level. His opening night performance against Rochester solidified one sure-fire fact: this kid was the real deal.
Skating down the left-wing side during a rush into the offensive zone, Holtz made a great move and shelfed the puck over the goaltender’s shoulder. In the second period with the Comets on the power-play, he took a one-timer with so much velocity that if it didn’t hit the back of the net, it might have ended up in the Andromeda galaxy! Two goals in his first game as a Comet and they were both eye-openers– it’s hard to teach that kind of scoring touch. There is something about Alex that made you think of another Alex you might be familiar with– you know, that one in Washington. It’s an unfair comparison, but nevertheless: it was clear from just one game in the AHL that his ceiling of his ability is very high.
As the season progressed, Holtz started to round out his game. He now wasn’t solely an offensive-minded player, transforming into more of a complete player. Playing hard in the defensive zone was going to be crucial for his development. Eventually, the Devils took notice and when the opportunity presented itself, Alex was recalled for his very first NHL game in Los Angeles on November 5th.
As the season progressed, it wasn’t just his hockey playing that was evolving. Holtz’s friendship with fellow Swede Fabian Zetterlund was growing as well. The two were inseparable on the ice, roomed together during road trips, and eventually both played in their first NHL games during the 2021-22 season. While Alex tends to be a quiet kid off the ice, Fabian has a massive personality and it eventually rubbed off on Holtz. It was during the Comets’ playoff series against Rochester when they joined the fans in the tradition of wearing white. Both of them showed up in all white suits to the delight of their teammates and fans. The teenager who showed up to Utica months earlier bloomed with personality as he became accustomed to North American hockey.
As we turn to the upcoming 2022-23 season, fans and the organization alike are convinced that Alex accomplished as much as he can in the AHL and the time has come for him to emerge as a force for the New Jersey Devils team that took him seventh overall just a few summers ago. If it happens, the Utica Comets and their fans will remember not just his first AHL game, but eventually, we will remember watching his first NHL goal and many more to come.