“It’s very nice to be here, to try to earn a spot on the World Junior team,” Holtz said. “It’s incredible to be a part of this team here.”
Holtz and teammate Lucas Raymond are two of only four Swedes playing at the WJSS who have not yet been drafted. Eligible for selection in 2020, they are among the world’s top prospects and are connected by fabulous memories from the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Ornskoldsvik and Umea this past April, when the home side defeated Russia, 4-3, to win gold. That win came in overtime, and Raymond scored the golden goal, his third goal of the game.
Holtz had an outstanding playoffs at that tournament, scoring once in the quarter-finals in a 4-2 win over the Czechs and twice in the semis, against Canada. He added two assists on Raymond’s two goals in regulation in the gold-medal game.
They were linemates then, and they are linemates now, each trying to help the other as much as possible.
“We don’t talk very much about the draft,” Holtz said. “We just try to do our best every game. It’s incredible to play with him again. He’s a very smart guy out there, great hockey sense, amazing passer and stickhandler. He can shoot the puck. It’s great to play with him. We know each other.”
In addition to U18 gold, Holtz also made his senior and professional debut with Djurgarden Stockholm in the top Swedish league this past season, and that is another reason he is here, to push himself to get better before the start of a new year.
“I think this level of play here is a little below the SHL maybe,” he began. “There’s more speed and a better level of skill than the U20 super league, but it’s not as good as the SHL. My goal is to earn a spot on the men’s team in Djurgarden this year and play my best there next season, try to be an offensively-skilled player in that league, and try to make a spot on the World Juniors team as well.”
Holtz hasn’t been scoring with his usual regularity in Plymouth, and part of the reason is that it’s the middle of the summer and his body and mind aren’t quite in full-hockey mode.
“In the summer we don’t skate very much in Sweden,” he admitted. “This is the first time I’ve done it, so it’s a little different, and we’re playing tough teams.”
Still, he offers no excuses. “I’m just trying to do my best all the time. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But the biggest way I can contribute is by scoring goals, to help my team win, but I haven’t done this yet. I hope it will come. I’m getting chances, I’m getting shots, but I need to score goals. I’m not hitting my spots right now. I think my work ethic has been good, but I haven’t produced. That’s what I need to do.”
Growing up, Holtz admired the very players he hopes to become. “Alexander Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Mats Sundin. Righties who can shoot the puck well. I see myself in them a little because I also like to shoot,” he added.
For now, Holtz is just trying to get better every day. He has his goals for the coming season, and with the draft nearly a year away it’s not something specifically that worries him.
“I don’t look at other prospects and compare myself,” he said. “I just do my best every day and then try to do better.”