The Devils defeated the Capitals 4-1 in a preseason game Monday night. Once again, former 2020 first round picks Alex Holtz and Dawson Mercer had good showings. Holtz scored another goal while Mercer had a primary assist.
The Holtz goal came on the power play in the first period. Mercer assisted on it. With both teenage prospects performing well during training camp and exhibition, the big question is will coach Lindy Ruff decide to keep them on the final roster. There’s still time for him and GM Tom Fitzgerald to assess things.
Given what they’ve shown, how do the Devils Red Army feel about keeping both Holtz and Mercer on the roster to make their NHL debuts for Opening Night? Is it something you want to see, or would it be better for each to further develop before they play a game?
The answer largely depends on how many available spots there are. If Devils brass thinks they’re ready, perhaps they can see what both Holtz and Mercer have in a few games. In a full 82-game schedule, NHL teams have up to nine games to decide if they should burn a year off their rookie entry level contracts. Most rebuilding clubs proceed with caution. But if one of the promising young guns proves ready, it’s possible they could stay with the big club.
New Jersey made the big signing of top defenseman Dougie Hamilton to improve the roster. A great skating and puck possession player who can run the power play, Hamilton should make everyone else better including Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. Fitzgerald also made the wise acquisition of Ryan Graves to further bolster a back end that includes Ty Smith, P.K. Subban and Damon Severson. A big physical presence who can deliver checks while being capable of contributing goals. Forward Tomas Tatar is a savvy veteran who is a proven scorer. He should be in the top six while also a fixture on the power play.
The Devils will look for more improvement from last season’s leading scorer Pavel Zacha, who’s continued to shoot the puck with success in the preseason. He scored another goal last night. If he and Jesper Bratt can continue to become more consistent along with Miles Wood, then perhaps the Devils won’t be as easy to play against. Especially if Hughes takes a big step up in Year Three. Hischier will need to stay healthy and lead by example.
Yegor Sharangovich proved he belonged in his first year. Janne Kuokkanen and Andreas Johnsson will have supporting roles along with Bratt, Mike McLeod and either Nolan Foote or one of Graeme Clarke, Tyce Thompson or Jesper Boqvist. What about Jimmy Vesey, who’s on a pro tryout? He hasn’t quite fulfilled expectations, but has experience. Is there a place for him in Newark?
Do Holtz and Mercer fit the roster? The talent is there. It’ll be up to the organization to decide if they will make their NHL debuts later next week.