The Utica Comets got two reinforcements on Tuesday when the New Jersey Devils assigned forward Alexander Holtz and defenseman Kevin Bahl to the team.
The move brings back two key contributors to the team that helped the Comets win the North Division last season.
The 20-year-old Holtz, a 2020 Devils first-round pick, played 52 games for the Comets last season, scoring 26 goals and 25 assists, ranking first on the team in goals and fourth in the rating. This season, the Stockholm-born Swede made four appearances for New Jersey, scoring his first NHL goal.
Bahl, 22, played in 54 games for Utica last season, recording three goals and 13 assists. This season, the Westminster, BC native played three games for the Devils without registering a point.
Both trained with the team on Tuesday and are expected to be in the lineup for Wednesday when the Comets play the Belleville Senators. Game time is 7 p.m
Head coach Kevin Dineen said they should help strengthen the lineup. “They played strong, strong hockey for us last year. They’re still on their development curve, but we’re looking forward to getting our mix back,” he said. “They were there. You know this league. They know it’s a tough league and you can’t just feel your way into it. We expect them to jump straight on board and engage with our group. That gives us a real positive push.”
Dineen said he’s excited to have Holtz’s enthusiasm and positivity in the dressing room and will be looking for him to “create opportunities and bring that enthusiasm that we only expect from him as a young, energetic kid.”
“I felt good,” said Holtz after training on Tuesday. “I’m looking forward to being back. I’m looking forward to playing some games again.” He hadn’t played for the Devils since October 25.
“Hopefully we’ll win a few games here,” Holtz said of the Comets. who are 4-6-1-1 and sit at the bottom of the seven-team division.
He also needs to work on his development to return to the NHL.
“I have high expectations of myself,” he said. “I want to go faster. I want my whole game to be more complete.”
One place where Holtz can certainly make an immediate impact is on the scorers list. The Comets have one of the fewest goals in the 32-team league at 2.75 per game.
“This is my game. I’m a shooter and I’m a goalscorer,” he said.
He said he will look for opportunities to shoot but will still need to make good plays and be responsible in all parts of the game.
Holtz said he trained alongside captain Ryan Schmelzer and compatriot Andreas Johnsson on Tuesday. “It felt like we had good chemistry out there,” he said.
Then there’s the 6-foot-6 Bahl, a crowd favorite with his own cheering section called Bahl’s Army. Dineen said he had a “calm demeanor” and had composure with the puck. And, he said, for the other team, “it’s not fun when you have a guy who’s as physical as he is. He has his racquet in the way and he can make plays.”
It’s unclear how long Holtz and Bahl could be with Utica. With the moves, the Devils have 20 players on the 23-man roster.
The Comets leave town for a two-game road trip to Charlotte to play the Checkers on Friday and Saturday before returning home for a Wednesday, Nov. 30 to play division rivals the Laval Rocket to fight.
Dineen said that Belleville “gets at you hard” and plays a physical game like the Comets often see from the Syracuse Crunch. Charlotte, he noted, is a capable offensive team. “So we’re going to have to have some responsibility on that side of the puck,” he said of the Comets’ defense.
“We’re trying to fix our game and there’s no better place to do that than in front of our home fans,” said Dineen.
Striker Aarne Talvitie trained in a yellow ‘No Contact’ jersey after missing Saturday’s game. He will not be traveling with the team this weekend, Dineen said.
Striker Brian Pinho’s scoring streak is now five games. He leads the team with eight goals.