Hartnett: 'Dependable' Holden Has Done It All For The Rangers
By Sean Hartnett
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Sometimes it's easy to overlook a defenseman who doesn't really have a flashy quality that sticks out in his game. Nick Holden isn't the fastest or most skilled player on the ice. Nor does he run around looking to batter opponents with heavy hits.
The 29-year-old defenseman plays a remarkably safe game and has quietly been a solidifying presence on the Rangers' blue line. While he doesn't do anything at an elite level, he does a lot of things well. Holden is mobile and physical. He thinks quickly on both ends of the ice and the word everyone circles back to when describing him is "dependable."
"Safe, dependable, and not very flashy," head coach Alain Vigneault said of Holden in late October. "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."
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Through 31 games, the 6-foot-4 left-handed shooting blueliner has averaged 19:59 of ice time per game. Captain Ryan McDonagh is the only Ranger ahead of him in average ice time and total minutes this season. Whether Holden is playing on the left or right side, he gives the Rangers steady minutes. He's a Swiss Army knife at Vigneault's disposal because he plays well with whoever he is partnered with, on either side and in whatever the situation calls for.
Holden has also provided unexpected offense, chipping in 14 points and leading Rangers defensemen in goals with four. His point total is even with two of the league's most offensively-skilled defensmen in John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars and Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes.
He is currently on pace to finish the season with 37 points, which would smash his previous career best of 25. Although the offensive production is coming, the 214-pound defender focuses first and foremost on being tough to play against in his own end.
"I pride myself on playing against lots of top lines," Holden recently told WFAN.com. "That's what I pride myself on more -- being defense-first minded. Obviously, you want to contribute offensively and, luckily, I've been able to score some goals and get some assists. That's not my main concern. I want to make sure I'm shutting down their guys so they're not scoring and work from our goal out."
Vigneault tends to give his defensemen the green light to join the rush in his speedy, uptempo system. It's quite a difference compared to how Holden was asked to play for three season under former Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy.
"It's a lot more aggressive here," Holden said. "You're always moving and supporting each other. Coming to a new team, there's always a little bit of an adjustment period. I think it's a good system for me, where I can keep skating and keep moving. In the NHL right now, that's the style of play that everybody is playing. Defensemen are big in the rush and creating a lot of offense. Everybody's got to be contributing."
Back on June 25, general manager Jeff Gorton acquired Holden from the Avs in exchange for a 2017 fourth-round draft pick. Talk about a steal. Holden has played a big role in helping transform the Rangers from a team that struggled and chased in its own end last season to one that is fast to the puck and moves it out of danger.
On top of all that, Holden only costs the Rangers a salary cap charge of $1.65 million and is signed through the 2017-18 season. He's giving the Blueshirts tremendous bang for their buck.
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