When Swedish under-17 national coach Markus Akerblom first saw Alexander Holtz play last spring, he quickly realized the hype around the youngster was justified. “From the red line forward, he scored on every shot,” Akerblom said. “It was unbelievable. I had never seen anything like that before. He could literally squeeze the puck through when there was no space. I was blown away. He hit the target every time. You could see the goalies were really frustrated. They couldn’t get a read on him.”
And while it would be very easy for the 17-year-old to get distracted by all the chatter surrounding his future, Holtz’s drive was just as impressive as his goal-scoring ability. “I was really surprised how this kid, and he is still a kid, was so mature and focused,” Akerblom said. “He knows exactly what he wants to do and what he needs to do to get there. He has both feet on the ground and is very calm for the position that he’s in.”
Holtz, a right winger who plays for the Djurgarden organization, has been on scouting radars for a couple years already, dating back to his time with Nacka HK’s under-16 team. His older brother, David, also played junior hockey (for the fantastically named Boo HC) and now coaches. Hailing from an area of Stockholm called Saltsjo-Boo, Holtz grew up playing a number of sports, including golf, tennis, soccer and bandy. “It’s important to test other sports,” Holtz said. “I can take something from here, something from there and put them together so that my hockey can be the best.”
Soccer is still a big passion for Holtz, and when he was in Toronto during the summer, he made sure to get his World Cup viewings in. “I watched every game,” he said. “I love football. My favorite is Zlatan (Ibrahimovic). He’s nice.”
Holtz was in Toronto for Newport NEXT, a development camp put on by the player agency that represents stars such as Steven Stamkos, P.K. Subban and, on the younger side, Rasmus Dahlin.
Holtz made the move to Djurgarden (which is also in Stockholm) for the 2017-18 campaign, where he continued to thrash the competition in Sweden’s junior ranks.
What is most interesting about his development is the fact Djurgarden resisted the urge to get him into SHL games too early. Holtz was blitzing the under-18 circuit last season, then fared well when he was called up to the under-20 squad – but he didn’t get into any games against men. From a marketing perspective, it would have been tempting for Djurgarden to bring the kid up, but the team was also gunning for a title at the time. Akerblom was pleased at the fact the organization didn’t rush Holtz, and the same applied to Frolunda, the SHL program that is developing another top Swede for the 2020 draft, right winger Lucas Raymond.
Holtz and Raymond made their SHL debuts this season and, really, they could only be kept in junior for so long. The dynamic duo helped Sweden claim bronze at the World Under-17 Challenge in New Brunswick, with Holtz leading the team in scoring and Raymond sniping the bronze-winning shootout goal. Add in another potential high 2020 pick in right winger Zion Nybeck and the 2002 birth year is looking very strong for the Swedes. “Not only do we have those names, but we’ve had 41 different players out for the national team, so we have depth,” Akerblom said. “It’s a really strong year.”
One intriguing question is which Swede will end up going off the draft board first. Raymond has been the more complete player, but Holtz has that incredible goal-scoring ability that is difficult to ignore.
Holtz’s favorite NHLers are snipers Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine, and it’s easy to envision a scenario where Holtz’s Laine-esque scoring talents vault him ahead of Raymond. Having said that, Akerblom has already seen a good deal of growth in Holtz’s game since they first crossed paths last spring. Holtz is developing a 200-foot approach and has learned to play more physically. He was also the captain of that Swedish under-17 team, which speaks to his leadership capabilities. In terms of progression, Holtz is still honing different parts of his game. “For skating, I want to get faster,” he said. “The game gets faster every year.”
And life is going to get a lot faster for Holtz as well. He will assuredly play a big role on Sweden’s world under-18 team this spring when the tournament is held in Ornskoldsvik and Umea, and it’s a decent bet he and Raymond get into next year’s world juniors as underagers. The hype is already here, but Holtz is trying to use the maturity Akerblom mentioned. “Yeah, I get a lot of attention,” Holtz said. “But I try to stay humble and make the best of the situation.”