Veteran defenseman Nick Holden and rookie forward Pavel Buchnevich arrived on far different paths to this critical juncture in the Rangers’ season.
Holden, an Alberta native, played 214 games for the Avalanche and won the admiration of four-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie and Colorado general manager Patrick Roy.
Buchnevich, who turned 22 Monday, came to North America last summer, stayed with a family in Connecticut, made the club out of training camp and had 13 points in his first 13 games. But he developed back problems in November that sidelined him for 26 games, and the young Russian has yet to appear in an NHL playoff game.
Holden has played in nine postseason games: seven with the Avalanche and in the first two games against the Canadiens before being scratched for Game 3, which the Rangers lost, 3-1.
Neither has been part of the deep playoff runs by the Rangers in recent years. However, both players have a common trait: They can contribute offensively, which the Rangers will need in the biggest home game of the season Tuesday night. The Canadiens lead the best-of-seven first-round playoff series 2-1, and another loss would put the Rangers’ ship in dire straits.
After producing 87 points in 158 games in four KHL seasons, Buchnevich, a third-round draft pick in 2013, had eight goals and 20 points in 41 games.
Holden, acquired for a fourth-round draft pick last June, led all Rangers defensemen with 11 goals — three on the power play — and added 23 assists for 34 points in 80 games. All were career highs.
“We’re going to make a few adjustments and play a lot better than we did [Sunday],” coach Alain Vigneault said. He didn’t declare his intentions, but the signs were there.
Holden was paired with Marc Staal in practice at the Garden on Monday, and Kevin Klein, who replaced Holden in Sunday’s game, was with spare Steven Kampfer. Buchnevich rotated with Tanner Glass on a top-two line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.
Glass brings energy and a physical element, but Buchnevich is more of a scoring threat and can be deployed on the power play, which is 0-for-10 against the Canadiens.
“He’s [Buchnevich] done a really good job,” fellow rookie Jimmy Vesey said. “It’s not easy coming to North America. There’s the language barrier, he’s been in the lineup, out of the lineup. I think the biggest thing is he’s got a good attitude, he’s been very personable, fun to be around. With his broken English, his translation of things is pretty funny. I’d be happy for him to get in the lineup, how hard he’s worked. He has the ability to make plays, very skilled and talented offensively. We struggled to score goals last game. I think on the power play he could definitely help us out.”
What defenseman Brady Skjei likes about Holden is his all-around game. “He’s a steady player and has a good shot from the point, obviously,’’ Skjei said. “He’s got 11 goals this year, which is a lot for a defenseman. He makes the simple play, he’s strong, big, skates well. You need all those aspects to be a good defenseman in this league. I think he had a really good season. He’s a nice guy, not a rah-rah guy in the room, but everyone respects him; when he says something, you listen. He’s been around a while and he’s been good to all the young guys, me, Vesey, Buch.”
Vigneault declined to explain how he reached the decision to scratch Holden for Game 3, although the defenseman broke his stick and was out of position on Tomas Plekanec’s goal that tied Game 2 with 17.3 seconds remaining.
“I still do like his game,” Vigneault said. “I think he’s dependable, a good, steady defenseman who can move the puck when the pressure is on. Like any player in any year, he has good moments and some other moments might be a little more challenging. If he plays tomorrow, I’m going to expect him to be good.’’