Prospect of Interest: Alexander Holtz vies for claim as top Swede at 2020 NHL Draft

Alexander Holtz (27) is competing with friend and frequent linemate Lucas Raymond to be the first Swede taken in the 2020 NHL Draft. (Codie McLachlan/CP)

They shared a bronze medal at the under-17 worlds, a gold at the U18s the following spring and another bronze at the 2020 world juniors -- all while often sharing the same line.

And while Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz share the expectations of being part of Sweden’s hockey future and are expected to be taken near the top of the 2020 NHL Draft, they differ greatly in their approach to the game.

Both Raymond and Holtz have long been highly touted prospects, cracking Sweden’s elite under-20 junior league, the SuperElit, when they were just 15 years old. But it is Holtz who has seen his draft stock surge of late, leapfrogging his international teammate in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings of European skaters. However, in Sam Cosentino's last rankings, Raymond finished two spots higher than Holtz.

Here’s what you need to know about the sniper Holtz, and his bid to be the first Swede whose name is called at the NHL draft:

Team: Djurgarden IF (SHL)
Position: Right wing
Shoots: Right
Age: 18 (born Jan. 23, 2002)
From: Stockholm, Sweden
Height: 6-0
Weight: 192 pounds

Impressed early

It didn’t take long for Holtz to open some eyes among scouts.

After joining Djugardens -- which has produced the likes of Niklas Kronwall and Mika Zibanejad -- in Stockholm at 15, the young sniper put up 41 goals and 74 points in 30 games for the organization’s under-18 squad as well as eights points in an 11-game stint for its SuperElit team.

And Holtz continued to impress as he rose up the ranks.

The following season, 2018-19, Holtz locked down a spot on that SuperElit team, finding the back of the net a league-leading 30 times and tacking on 17 assists to end up with 47 points in 30 games.

The goal-scoring winger also shined on the international stage. Holtz helped Sweden to a second-place finish at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup after racking up seven points in five games.

A few months later, Holtz captained the Tre Kronor to a bronze medal at the under-17 worlds and outscored linemate Raymond (eight points to seven in six games).

In the spring, Holtz and Raymond carried Sweden, as underagers on the top line, to its first gold at the 2019 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, combining for 15 points in seven games (Holtz had four goals and three assists).

"Both of those kids (Holtz and Raymond), what stands out for them was in the 2018 (SHL) when they were underage and how they popped,” Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, told Sportsnet.

“They both stood out, and that initial impression -- initial impressions, you can put as much weight in them as you want -- but when you have an initial impression of a player that every time you see or watch them afterwards they continue to deliver and improve. Every tournament that I've seen them play -- they've always delivered. They've always risen to the occasion.”

Swapping Swedes

Holtz continued to rise to the occasion this past season.

He played the majority of the 2019-20 campaign with Djurgarden’s top pro team, collecting nine goals and seven helpers in 35 games, lining up alongside former NHLer Patrik Berglund. Holtz’s 16 points were the highest point total by an under-18 player in the SHL. Raymond had 10 points in 33 games for Frolunda.

At the world juniors, Holtz started strong helping Sweden beat its rival Finland in its opening tilt with a rocket in overtime.

Playing on a line with -- who else? -- Raymond, Holtz notched five points in seven games, as an underager, carrying the blue and yellow to a bronze-medal finish.

Holtz’s big year was reflected in his rise up mock draft boards.

The 18-year jumped from third among European prospects on NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings to second on its final list, behind only Tim Stuetzle, and passing Raymond, who fell from No. 2 to No. 4.

Marr said while there’s little separating Holtz and Raymond, the former’s play down the stretch boosted his stock.

“When you're talking about those four players after Stutzle -- I think Tim has established himself as being the top -- they are a little interchangeable. I think the biggest difference between the two is that when you go to watch Raymond or Holtz play, you know what to expect,” he said.

“I think just the consistency level and the fact that (Holtz) elevated his play a little bit more in the second half -- there's just a very fine line between them -- and I just think at this point, Holtz kind of had the better second half of the season than Raymond.”

Marr added that Holtz’s strength advantage over Raymond -- who clocks in at five-foot-11, 170 pounds -- may have helped the former navigate his first full campaign among grown men with greater ease.

Shoot first, pass later

But what truly separates Raymond and Holtz, yet also makes them such a lethal combo, is their style of play.

Raymond is a slick playmaker, while Holtz is a pure finisher.

Blessed with a quick release, Holtz is always ready to shoot and excels at scoring off the rush.

“He's one of these skilled players with really good offensive instincts, and it's tough for a younger guy playing in the big leagues to get quality minutes there, but he showed his offensive side,” said Marr.

“He's a bit of a sniper with his shot and he's a shoot-first, not pass-first, type of player. It's just his offensive game, he's a strong skater, plays a responsible two-way game, but he just reads all the offensive situations well, and he's got that strong shot and good understanding of the game, so he knows where to be and he can finish on the play.”

Given all their time spent sharing the ice at international competitions or in Sweden, Raymond is acutely aware of his oft-linemate’s ability to find the back of the net.

“He's extremely skilled and has a lethal shot. It's incredible. He still has speed despite his size, has great vision and is a great player to play with,” Raymond told NHL.com in December.

“If you give him a good shot, 99 per cent of the time it's going in."

While Marr shied away from projecting his production at the NHL level, he was confident that whatever team ends up with the trigger-happy Swede is getting a player that can light the lamp.

“All I can say is you're going to be drafting a goal scorer, and it depends on where he goes, the system they play and who he plays with. But it's a wide-open game right now, if you can skate and shoot and score, then you've got a chance to put up some numbers,” he said.

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