Defenseman Nick Holden was relatively unheralded when the New York Rangers acquired him from the Colorado Avalanche in June in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick. But the 29-year-old blueliner has put up impressive numbers during his first season with the Blueshirts. Holden has produced at both ends of the ice, with 11 goals and 23 assists for 34 points -- all career highs -- in 79 games.
The Alberta native logged 300 games in the minors before getting his first real NHL shot with the Avalanche in 2013. He made his only playoff appearance with Colorado the following spring, logging four points in a seven-game first-round series, which the Avs lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Minnesota Wild in overtime of Game 7.
Now the defenseman and his Rangers teammates are headed back to the postseason, where they'll face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. I spoke with Holden recently about his hockey journey, why playoff hockey is different and what it means to don the Rangers' iconic jersey every game.
ESPN.com: You have seven games of postseason experience. How do you feel about returning to the Stanley Cup playoffs with the Rangers?
Holden: I'm just so excited. The postseason is such a different animal and I've only played in the first round, so I'm going to lean on other guys for experience because the team here has gone deep in recent years. We're not satisfied just getting into the playoffs. We want to make some noise now -- and that goes for me as well. I want to be a big contributor to help the team win.
ESPN.com: You mentioned the veteran players on the Rangers and the success they've had in recent seasons. What is it like to have those types of teammates?
Holden: Over an 82-game schedule, you'll see guys have ups and downs, and it gets to be a mental grind. Now it's a more controlled emotional time. You see preparations change a little bit and guys start to get a little more dialed in, fine-tuned. So things start to change.
ESPN.com: Most every player is bruised and banged-up at this point of the season. Can reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs serve as a reset button?
Holden: The playoffs are such a mental game. You get a lot of energy from the excitement, from the fans, from the time of year. You're playing during the spring, when the sun is out all the time and it's a little bit warmer. You know, coming to the rink, that your season could be over in a week, so mentally it is almost like a fresh start. It doesn't matter anymore where you finished in the standings. What matters is the game that night. Your mentality is: This is a sprint, rather than a marathon. At other times, you've had to worry about getting through the whole season instead of what's right in front of you.
ESPN.com: How would you describe your season with the Rangers?
Holden: It's been, for the most part, a pretty consistent season. Offensively, I've done more than what I had expected myself to do. I think that has contributed to how our team plays and the system we play. Coming into the year, I just wanted to see where I would fit in with the Rangers and what they needed me to bring. They wanted me to be a consistent, reliable defenseman and I feel like, for the most part, I was able to do that this year. An added bonus was getting some goals and points. Now it's time to grab another gear and continue to do that and more in the playoffs.
ESPN.com: How would you describe your career?
Holden: I was 20 years old and an unrestricted free agent coming out of junior, and luckily I had a couple of options to choose from. I chose to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets. I went there hoping to make their team right away, but I got sent down my first couple of years and played in the minors.
I never really got out of that spot with them and played only seven [NHL] games in five years. But I had almost 300 AHL games with their organization [the Syracuse Crunch]. It was a blessing in disguise because it really let me develop my game, so when I got my opportunity with Colorado [with whom he signed as a free agent in 2013], I was able to play my game regardless of outside circumstances.
I had three great years -- for me and my family -- in Colorado. At first, the trade last summer was a little bit nerve-racking. We weren't expecting it at all. The way I played, I just never expected anybody to trade for me. But after talking with some of the New York guys, I learned that they wanted me here. In the nine years I've played pro I've kind of been all over the place, but it's been a fun journey.
ESPN.com: Now you're playing for the Rangers on a big stage. What has that been like?
Holden: You go from Columbus and Colorado, which aren't big organizations, to one of the top, if not the top organization in the NHL in everything they do -- whether it's the product on the ice and how good their teams are to how they treat their players and everybody in between. I didn't really have any expectations of what it was going to be like. But when I found out I was going to the Rangers, knowing the history, that they're an Original Six [franchise], that this is the 90th anniversary and all of the players who have come through the Rangers organization, it's just such a rich history. So, to get traded here was exciting and getting to play -- and throwing on such an historic and cool jersey -- at Madison Square Garden every home game? It's exciting every day to pull that on. My friends and family are excited, too.
ESPN.com: What's it like to play in front of those fans?
Holden: Being on a visiting team, it was always a game you looked forward to because it was at Madison Square Garden but also because of the fans and how electric the energy is in that building. It's even better playing for the Rangers. It's crazy when you score a goal or win a game. And even if you're playing bad, the fans will let you know. It's probably one of the top arenas to play in -- and I get to do it every home game.
ESPN.com: It sounds like you're a historian of the game. Who was your hockey idol growing up?
Holden: For some reason, and I still don't know why, I loved the Detroit Red Wings. I loved Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman -- they were my two favorite players. Lidstrom was obviously the best defenseman at the time. I just liked the way he played the game.
ESPN.com: Being from Alberta, what has the adjustment to living in New York been like for you and your family?
Holden: We're not right in the city, which is perfect for me and my family. We've got the best of both worlds. In [Rye, New York], we get to relax -- and my son plays hockey for the Rye Rangers. We've been able to enjoy the city as well. We've done a few Broadway shows and my wife and I have tried to get into the city for shopping and kind of romantic things. We're just trying to experience the city as much as we can while we're here. When you play in the city, you want to become part of the culture and all that stuff.