When you have Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo in the lineup, it's hard not to get overshadowed as a Vegas Golden Knights defenseman.
But Vegas has gotten its entire D-core to step up in a big way this season. Pietrangelo and Theodore are tied for first in team scoring against Montreal with three points each, including Pietrangelo's three goals. Brayden McNabb and Alec Martinez also have goals for the Golden Knights. But one of the more surprising performances throughout the entire playoffs has been the play of Nick Holden, the team's 34-year-old depth defenseman.
Here's some statistics for you: Holden has 513 regular season games played over 10 years. He has 45 goals and 143 points. That's a .28 points-per-game average if you're keeping track.
Holden doesn't have a point in the past three games and just one in the series against Montreal overall. But he's not paid to score – the fact he has seven points in 14 games, though, is a nice bonus. And he's been a fixture in the lineup ever since Game 2 in Minnesota after starting the playoffs on the taxi squad. Holden only played 17 games in the regular season and was a healthy scratch leading into the playoffs, but he was consistent enough to force his way into the lineup full-time and even saw a boost in ice time at points during the playoffs, too.
Holden hasn't been an everyday NHLer since playing 80 games in 2016-17 with the New York Rangers. Since then, he played a minor role in Boston and served as a depth guy in a rotating cast of characters in Vegas. In 19 playoff games last year, he had just a single assist. His previous NHL career-high is four in the playoffs, achieved twice in 2014 with Colorado and 2017 with the Rangers. His main role is to alleviate stress from the top guys and play a couple of shutdown shifts a game. That's it. But this off-season, he's had a hand in the offense in a bigger way than usual.
When paired with Theodore in the playoffs, the pair have an xGoals percentage of 69.7 percent per Money Puck – good for fourth among defense pairings with at least nine games played in the post-season. With Zach Whitecloud, Holden and his D-partner sit at 55.6 percent – another impressive number. In Theodore's case, it's expected because Theodore does a good job of getting the puck out of the zone and getting down the other end for a scoring chance – that's part of his thing. But having Holden acting as a more of a stability piece further back allows someone like Theodore to do what he does best, and that's important.
Holden has never been an offensive dynamo, but among all defenders still playing in the post-season, his 1.99 points-per-60 is the best by quite a margin. This isn't to suggest he deserves more ice time – around the 15-minute mark is rather fair for someone tasked with being a depth piece – but his increased offensive value has made him more valuable than previously thought. He had just two assists in 17 regular season games, after all.
When Holden is at his best, he's using his 6-foot-4 frame and solid mobility to push players off the puck and around the net. If the Golden Knights need him to play 20 minutes a night, he can do so without looking out of place because he's got the stamina to play heavier minutes. If the Golden Knights win this series, Holden won't receive the praise his defensive counterparts have for their play, but it's hard to imagine the important people in the Vegas front office haven't taken notice heading into free agency.