Rangers Find Hidden Gem With Holden

  1. Whoever tipped the Blueshirts brass about Nick Holden‘s value as a defenseman should get some kind of medal.
  1. Buried on the list of “potentials” last October, the St. Albert, Alberta native has turned into one of general manager Jeff Gorton‘s finds among many finds.
  1. Even with several offensive regulars — Rick Nash, Mika Zibanejad, et. al. — sidelined, a core of reliable forwards are pushing the Rangers over the hump.
  1. The emergence of Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider accounts in good part for the club’s lofty perch.
  1. Speaking of players who’ve expanded their production, Josh Bailey has played well enough for more than a quarter of the season to remain on John Tavares‘ left wing.
  1. Those who lament the fact that Henrik Lundqvist has been temporarily replaced by Antti Raanta forget an important historic fact. And that is when The King suffered a long-term injury in 2014, Cam Talbot moved in and was more than adequate.
  1. Talbot’s competency and Lundqvist’s sabbatical enabled King Henrik to return to his throne rested and in mint condition.
  1. When Joseph Blandisi was promoted to the Devils from AHL Albany last season, he gave New Jersey a hefty boost with his gung-ho style. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in Newark again.
  1. My most pleasant surprise, Devils-wise, has been left wing Miles Wood. He’s fearless and with a knack for getting to the puck faster than most. Ex-Islander Randy Wood’s son will only get better.
  1. Healthy again, Jon Merrill is getting a chance to prove that he belongs on the New Jersey varsity as a contributing defender. An A-1 Merrill means a lot to this team’s playoff aspirations.
  1. Travis “Swiss Army Knife” Zajac skates against the opponent’s top line, is the Devils’ best centermen at the faceoff dot, plays on all shorthanded opportunities and has five points on the PP. Zajac has been the best and most consistent Devil through the first third of the season.
  1. The lightning bolt that is the Devils’ prized offseason acquisition — Taylor Hall — has been everything the Devils hoped for and more. He is a unique talent. Every time he is on the ice, you notice him. His talent demands it.
  1. That said, I sometimes get the impression that in his spotlighted position he tries to do too much with the puck by himself when a pass might be the better option.
  1. A possible — repeat, possible — game-changer for the Devils has not played a single game for them; and may not, ever.
  1. But, a third of the way through the season and there has been no announcement from Patrik Elias about his plans for this season. The club’s all-time leading scorer could be a terrific boost for a bottom six who has struggled to score. He could serve as a mentor to a kid like Pavel Zacha. The most important Devil of the season may not be on the roster.
  1. Nick Lappin continues to be a forechecking monster on the Devils’ fourth line. Now paired with fellow rookie Wood, the two are learning plenty under vet Vern Fiddler.
  1. Speaking of Vern, if he scores a goal with a high shot that just sneaks under the crossbar, can we call it “Fiddler on The Roof?” (My apologies!)
  1. This is a much better Johnny Boychuk we’re seeing this season than last and I don’t even want to wonder why — just enjoy.
  1. Cal Clutterbuck‘s new contract shows the Isles like what he brings to the team and gives fellow linemate Casey Cizikas some familiar help grinding against opposing team’s top lines for the next four years.
  1. My choice for the most valuable under-the-radar (MVUTR) Ranger has to be Jesper (I’m Never Slow) Fast.
  1. On the Islanders, my MVUTR choice is Nikolay Kulemin whose hustle also has muscle.
  1. And for the Devils, the MVUTR is Nick (Never Lacking) Lappin who can play on any line and be an asset.
  1. Some coaches, displeased with a particular player’s performance will single him out — or them if it’s plural — to the media. Whether that’s a useful practice or not remains debatable. But when it comes to Jack Capuano, mum’s the word.
  1. There are many reasons to like the play of Islanders veteran D-man Dennis Seidenberg, but this element will surprise you. He’s the Brooklynites’ leader in plus-minus with an impressive plus-13.
  1. Peter (1971 Overtime Hero) Stemkowski, who was hailed along with Adam Graves and Stephane Matteau at The Garden on Tuesday night, ranks among the All-Time Blueshirts clutch aces. By the way, Peter recently gave me a terrific hockey book which I heartily recommend. It’s called “The Last Hockey Game” by Bruce McDougall. Stemmer stars in this gripping, true story.