Nick Holden Could Be the Biggest Surprise of 2015-16


Nick Holden is one of the “Dreadful 3” (Brad Stuart, Nate Guenin, Nick Holden) on the Colorado Avalanche’s defense. However, he could be the biggest surprise of the upcoming season. Now how the heck would one get to that prediction?

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In the past season, believe it or not, the Avalanche defense was one of the main reasons for the disappointment the 2014-15 campaign brought to Denver. It wasn’t much better the year before, when the Avalanche won the Central Division title ahead of teams like the Chicago Blackhawks. But that entire 2013-14 dream story can and should simply be regarded as an extraordinarily lucky season.

The last thing we know is that Nick Holden, Nate Guenin and Brad Stuart collectively failed to live up to everyone’s expectations. A lot of the time, none of the three looked like they should be paid what they are or even play in the NHL.

At the young age of 26, Holden seemed to be doomed to spend the entirety of his career in the AHL. The Avalanche, however, had other plans for him and signed him to a two-year contract. After the first season, Avalanche GM Joe Sakic was convinced enough to offer the defenseman a three-year extension, which will likely keep Holden in Denver until 2018.

"“Nick was a big part of our defense last season. He provided offense from our blue line and played with a lot of confidence as the season moved on. We are pleased that he will continue to be a part of our team.” — Joe Sakic on in 2014"

He was right back then. Holden finished second among defensemen in goals scored, despite only appearing in 54 games. His 10 tallies put him above Avs No. 1 Erik Johnson, trailing only Tyson Barrie‘s 13 goals. Furthermore, Holden actually looked more than decent defensively, on a defense that was below-average overall. He was nowhere near outstanding, but also far from terrible.

Then came 2014-15 — a season to forget. For Nick Holden and everyone else on the team. The 6-foot-3 defenseman scored only half as many goals as in his first full NHL campaign and recorded 14 points, 11 less than in 2013-14.

However, the season wasn’t all bad for Holden. The 28-year-old had an iCorsi (shots+blocked shots) of 149 in 5-on-5 situations, according to As a comparison, Johnson also had an iCorsi of 149, while Barrie led all Avalanche defensemen with 188.

In the much more successful 2013-14 campaign, Holden’s iCorsi was actually at 117 and therefore quite a bit lower than last season. So, while other players — including Barrie, Johnson and many forwards — saw a big regression in their possession stats in 2014-15, Holden’s actually improved.

Jan 27, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nick Holden (2) in warm-ups prior to the game against the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center. The Avalanche defeated the Stars 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Why Holden was less successful point-wise? I will contribute that to the team’s overall lack of scoring, as well as bad luck. In 2013-14, Holden’s shooting percentage was 14.53 — an incredibly high number for someone that takes almost all of his shots from the blue line. In 2014-15, however, that number dropped to 2.67 percent — second-worst among all players that scored at least one goal.

I highly doubt that a player would completely forget how to score goals that quickly. While both years were extremes, the truth will probably lie somewhere in the middle. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Holden scored somewhere around ten goals over the course of a full season in 2015-16.

Advanced stats obviously don’t tell the full story and watching Holden play, it is undeniable that he makes breathtaking mistakes every once in a while. However, they are a nice addition to what our eyes can tell us. Furthermore, they show us some interesting facts.

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Firstly, Nick Holden shouldn’t be a part of the “Dreadful 3”. Nate Guenin had an average iCorsi of 85 over the past two seasons and plays visibly worse than Holden, while consistently scoring 15 points or less. Brad Stuart is slightly better, with an iCorsi of 109, but usually doesn’t play better than Holden overall–while being paid $3.6 million per season.

Secondly, the Colorado Avalanche disappointed as a team last season. Nick Holden, however, didn’t play all that bad most of the time and advanced stats show that. He wasn’t as lucky on his shots and you can’t expect too many assists from someone that spends a lot of time on the ice with guys like Marc-Andre Cliche.

As said before, advanced stats don’t tell the whole story. But Nick Holden’s iCorsi is surprising, considering that the whole team had horrible possession numbers and Holden is widely regarded as one of the Avalanche’s worst D-men. If the team improves as a whole next season, Holden will likely get better stats as well — and also play better overall.

The Avalanche’s defense got improved this off-season, by adding veteran Francois Beauchemin and young gun Nikita Zadorov. Nevertheless, Nick Holden could not only stay in the lineup, but keep Zadorov off the second pairing. Now is the time for him to prove that he can be a good defenseman in the NHL.

What do you think can be expected from Nick Holden in the future? Let us know in the comments!

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