Nick Holden‘s quick ascendance from zero to silent hero has been a tremendous factor in the New York Rangers ascendance back to defensive greatness.
Nick Holden’s arrival in New York City back in late June was the farthest thing from appetizing.
Despite coming off a career year with the Colorado Avalanche alongside Tyson Barrie, Holden didn’t present Rangers’ fans with any sort of “wow factor” after looking like a third-pair defenseman at best for the majority of his career. In fact, many were discontent with the fact that that Blueshirts general manager Jeff Gorton gave up yet another valuable draft selection for a guy who would likely see his name, for the most part, towards the bottom of the depth chart.
Patrick Roy, on the other hand, believed otherwise.
The legendary netminder and then Avalanche head coach had some fine words to say about his former blue liner. According to Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post, Roy apparently rung up Vigneault after the Blueshirts acquired Holden for a fourth-round pick next season to aware Vigneault of the 29-year old’s talent.
Vigneault had this to say about his conversation with Roy, via Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post:
“It was funny, we were coming back from Buffalo, I got a call as I got off the plane in Ottawa from Patrick Roy saying to me, ‘You just got one of my better defensemen. ‘I talked to [Roy] about it at that time, ‘How do you see him?’ He told us he could be anywhere from a fourth to a sixth defenseman on a good team, depending on where his game was. The way Patrick had described him to me is what I’ve seen: Safe, dependable, and not very flashy. But he’s got a good stick. He’s not overly physical, but he gets in the way. So, he’s worked out real well for us.”
It was a solid reassurance from Roy, who was soon subject to a rugged exit out of Colorado. A main need for the Rangers this offseason was to add some sort of defensive stability and, according to Roy, that’s exactly what Vigneault and company would be receiving in the former undrafted free agent.
Throughout the Blueshirt’s first seven games, however, Roy’s opinion on Holden appeared to be remarkably flawed.
Holden stumbled out of the gate with the Rangers in both ends of the ice. Defensively, his so-called “good stick” looked anything but magnificent, as he struggled to defend in one-on-one situations. He looked slow to adjust to Jeff Beukeboom‘s system and find any sort of flow, as he fluctuated up and down Vigneault’s lineup due to injuries incurred by Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi. Offensively, Holden’s puck handling was sloppy, he lacked confidence in joining the rush, and turned the puck over at an alarming rate.
Many fans were frustrated with Holden’s lackluster play. Some even began to call for Adam Clendening, who had a strong preseason, to take Holden’s place in the lineup.
Nevertheless, Vigneault didn’t pick up those calls and stuck with Holden. He continued to give Holden top-four ice time, showing great confidence in the left-handed point man.
That confidence has paid off in a big way.
Holden has shown astounding progression after his tough commencement to the season. He’s improved drastically in adjusting to Beukeboom’s newly implemented defensive system, while also showing off his well-polished stick in individual defensive scenarios. In addition, he has cut the number of turnovers in the neutral zone and has gotten more comfortable in initiating odd-man rushes up the ice.
Holden has also meshed well with his new defensive partner Marc Staal. Unlike last year, Holden has had the flexibility to be aggressive moving up the ice instead of being forced to wait back as a safety haven on defense.
Holden is also on pace to set career highs in assists, points, plus/minus, and shooting percentage. To put it simply, he is playing at a really high level.
After looking like a potential outcast right from the get-go, Holden has firmly established his position in the top-four of the Rangers’ lineup. He’s looked like the quality defenseman that Roy described to Vigneault back in June and has quietly become a vital part of the Rangers’ defensive resurgence.