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Holden the latest defenseman to make the jump

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Nick Holden made his NHL debut two years ago and turned some heads in the process, but because of some bad timing and unfortunate injury issues, he had to wait a while to get back.

The 25-year-old native of St. Albert, Alberta was an undrafted free agent who caught the Blue Jackets' attention as a sturdy rearguard for the WHL's Chilliwack Bruins, and in the spring of 2008, GM Scott Howson made sure to get Holden under contract. Already boasting ideal NHL size (6-foot-4, approximately 200 pounds) and strength on his skates, Holden was an effective two-way defenseman who increased his point total in every year of his career.

He had a solid debut season with the Syracuse Crunch in 2008-09 and followed it up with an even stronger campaign in 2009-10. Holden showed the ability to take on more minutes and more responsibility, which earned him a call-up to the NHL in October 2010. The Blue Jackets had some injuries on the blueline and Holden stepped right in, logging 24:36 in a shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers less than two weeks after his recall.

Not only did he not look out of place, Holden looked like he belonged. But once the Blue Jackets got healthy, he went back to the AHL and continued to work. Under similarly unfortunate circumstances, Holden is now back in the NHL and ready to fill the void left by several injured defensemen.

"It's been a while, but I didn't expect anything," Holden said. "We have lots of good, young defensemen, and I knew I just had to bide my time. Everybody said that in a short season there would be injuries, and around the league it's evident that that's the truth. Luckily, I'm getting up here; unfortunately (it's because) Wiz got hurt and that's an unfortunate thing for the team."

Since his last stint in Columbus, the Blue Jackets have changed AHL coaches and a new attitude has taken over the club's top farm team. Brad Larsen is in charge of the Springfield Falcons, a young and talented squad that -- despite losing several players to NHL recall -- is still comfortably atop the division standings and has threatened the AHL's No. 1 spot on multiple occasions.

More than anything, Holden said, the atmosphere and expectations have changed. When players get the call to bring their game to the NHL, there's less uncertainty and stronger air of confidence that they know what to expect as well as what's expected of them.

"We have good leaders down there, and it's helped everybody's game to be better from the beginning of the year," Holden said. "Guys that should have been up here started down there, which helped us out, too. When you play with good players, I think your game elevates. Last year, I only played 25 games and I felt like I was playing good...and then I got injured.

"Two years is a long time; I feel like this is a new year and so far, everything has been going great. We've been winning down there in Springfield, and hopefully, I can come up here and help Columbus win now."

Much like Falcons teammates Tim Erixon and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, recalled last week by the Blue Jackets, Holden will benefit from a very similar systematic game from the AHL to NHL level. The idea of establishing consistency from one level to the next not only seems to make the transition smoother, but Holden said the learning curve also shrinks a bit as a result.

He spent some time after practice today hammering out the details of the Blue Jackets' system and schematic tweaks, and feels that he should be fully prepared when tomorrow's game against the Los Angeles Kings arrives.

"In-zone is kind of the same as what we do down there, but there's always going to be different coaches bringing their own different spin on things," Holden said. "There's obviously a bit of a learning curve your first few practices up, but I'm going to go sit down with (Craig Hartsburg) and hash that out and try to be ready to go for tomorrow night.

"I've been playing all year, luckily, and I feel like I'm in mid-season. I don't think that's a big deal. In practice, everything's a bit faster up here but you adapt to it and just play your game."

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