By Robert Picarello
While Chris Holt would one day love to man the New York Rangers net, the 20-year old goaltender has his skates planted firmly on the ice. The 180th overall pick of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft has a good head on his shoulders and likes to take things one step at a time, especially when it comes to his career.
"I'm not trying to get ahead of myself," the University of Nebraska-Omaha junior explained. "I know that things are developing for myself and this organization, but I really don't want to let anything go to my head. I'm totally content with where I'm at with Nebraska of Omaha and my situation there. It's all about finding the right situation for yourself. It's all about playing time and your supporting cast. But as far as a timeline for me to be in the NHL, I have no idea. This is all new to me. I never really thought I'd make it this far, but I've put in a lot of hard work and it's all kind of sinking in that I have a good chance to have a good career and take advantage of everything that the Rangers have given me. So as far as a timetable, I don't have anything set right now. I'm just kind of playing it by ear and seeing where it goes."
Holt is still working vigorously on his game. The Vancouver native is one of four goaltending prospects taking part in the Rangers week-long Prospect Development Camp at the team's practice facility in Tarrytown, NY.
"It's been a learning experience. It's good to come here and see where you're at, compared to other players and goalies, and see who your competition is," Holt said. "It gives you good insight on your fitness because it's such a demanding camp physically, especially for the goalies. There's only four of us here so we trade off who gets three sessions in one day. So it's really been physically demanding. I would say that it's a 'where are you?' kind of camp."
According to Rangers Asst. General Manager/VP of Player Personnel Don Maloney
, Holt is in a good position and making management do some thinking. "Chris has had two good years at Omaha-Nebraska and we're having discussions right now whether to turn him pro. He's the same age as Al Montoya. He's a big and very athletic goaltender. So to add another goalie to our mix, especially with Jason LaBarbera leaving makes a lot of sense to us. We're exploring the idea of signing Chris."
The Rangers like Holt as a prospect because his 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame fills the net nicely and he is extremely agile for his size, challenges shooters well, and uses a unique style to stone the opposition.
"I play both standup and butterfly style depending on the situation," Holt said. "I'm one of the biggest goalies that the Rangers have in their system so I try to use that to my advantage as much as possible. I definitely need to work on some flexibility, fitness, speed. But these are things that everybody can work on and develop. I think if I increase all of those, I'll definitely have a legitimate chance to become a Ranger someday. It helps to be big and agile at the same time."
It also helps that he picked up some of his work habits from another successful NHL goaltender, Patrick Roy. "I modeled myself almost completely after Patrick Roy. I've watched him and studied him. I just loved everything he did and how he carried himself on the ice. There was also one of my goalie coaches in Vancouver, Pascal Valana, who helped me out. He was really one of the guys who got me started in goaltending and taught me the basis of what I know now."
Holt's knowledge and play this past season ranked him third in the CCHA with 991 saves and ninth with a 2.60 GAA. The talented puck-stopper played in 37 regular season games for the Mavericks, compiling a 19-14-4 record that included a 2.90 goals against average and .903 save percentage. The talented goaltender had 14 thirty-plus save games, a four-game winning streak, and one shutout, which just happened to come against his team's conference rival, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
"His game has matured in the last 12 months and he seems more focused and poised under pressure," Rangers Amateur Scout, Andre Beaulieu said.
While the play of Holt was one of the main reasons the Mavs were able to have a successful season last year, the Broadcast Journalism major still can't believe he has come this far so fast and that one day he could earn a living playing hockey in the NHL.
"If you would have asked me 10 years ago if I thought I would have ever made it this far, I would have said, 'no way'," Holt said. "So to be drafted by the Rangers was a real accomplishment. Since then I've been working as hard as I can to walk through that door that they opened for me."
Holt started his hard work right after New York selected him two years ago at the Entry Draft, taking part in his first Rangers Prospect Development camp. "I was here back in 2003 right after the draft and then last year I was in Calgary for the three weeks that they hold prospect camp up there. That was a really good experience and it was even more intense because the duration was a lot longer. They really whip you into shape here."
But if the workload ever seems like it's too much to handle, Holt just thinks back to the time he spent in Tennessee when the Rangers called out his name in the sixth round of the '03 Draft. "I was actually there in Nashville when the Rangers selected me. It was probably the greatest experience of my life. I never thought I would have made it that far. Pulling that jersey over my head was unbelievable, I never thought that would happen and to be part of that at the draft, is something I'll never forget. Going there was one of the greatest decisions I ever made. My family was there with me. My mom, dad and sister all came. A lot of my friends I played with as a kid also got selected, so it was a really good weekend for not only myself, but also my peers and my family."
Holt likes the fact that he's in an organization that has developed many successful NHL goalies over the years. "It's an honor to be drafted by a team that does take a lot of pride in the goaltenders they select. Last year's selection Al Montoya is a great goaltender. Mike Richter is a future Hall of Famer. He's a guy I grew up watching and modeling my own style after. I would say that Mike Richter was one of the most enjoyable goalies to watch because he was small and so dynamic. It's really nice to kind of consider myself in that circle of people. Hopefully one day I can get on the ice in a Rangers jersey and prove it out that way. "
He also loves the fact that he's been able to work with and learn from Rangers Assistant and Goaltending Coach Benoit Allaire at the Prospect Camp. "He's one of the best in the world. I had a great time with him last year in Calgary and I hope to see him again this year. You can learn more from him in a day than you can with someone else in a year. Last year, for a week, I was with him every day and he has such knowledge and understanding of the game and the style that you need to play. We're trying to keep up with the forwards and all their new tricks and he's got it down to a science."
While Holt has no idea when he'll make his NHL debut, he feels he's in the right place at the right time, with the Rangers relying more on their youth today as opposed to years past. "I feel very fortunate to be in this system at this time. Ten years ago a young kid might have never had a shot because the Rangers are the New York Yankees of the hockey world. But I'm glad they're going to a more youth-oriented movement because it wasn't working. The Rangers missed the playoffs the last couple of years and I think right now they're definitely on the right track. They've done some unbelievable drafting and from the skill that's in this camp right here, with just the unsigned players, I think the Rangers are definitely going in the right direction."