January 02, 2016

Josh Holden

Thanks to a spectacular junior career with the Regina Pats, Josh Holden faced high expectations. Those expectations were the highest in Vancouver, where the Canucks drafted the young center 12th overall in 1996.

Holden's resume in Regina definitely warranted such a lofty draft selection, albeit in a relatively weak draft class. Holden, a six-foot, 190 pound center, had just come off of a 57 goal, 112 point season with the Pats. He would go on to score another 90 goals and nearly 200 points over 114 more games with the Pats.

But before he left Regina, the likelihood of future professional success took a big cut. So, too, did his wrist.

Playing in a playoff series with Moose Jaw, Holden lost his glove on a shift that resulted in an opponent's skate accidentally slicing his wrist. The result was 10 of 12 tendons on the base of Holden's left hand were completely severed. Doctors were able to surgically reattach the tendons, but Holden struggled to learn how to use his rebuilt wrist including how to hold a hockey stick.

"Mobility just isn't the same," Holden said upon turning pro in 1999. "It's tough to bend my wrist and grip my stick. But I've had a whole year to get used to it. I've got some exercises I can do; if I keep doing them it will only help."

Holden had earned a lot of respect by battling through the injury. The commitment he showed to overcome the hardship, as well as his commitment to conditioning and studying the defensive side of the game endeared him to the Canucks. They were not ready to write him off as a prospect.

"You want to say injuries are part of the game, but injuries like that one are pretty rare. I just look at it like it's a blessing that I can still play."

Unfortunately for Holden and the Canucks, he was never able to find his game at the NHL level, though he was a serviceable playing in the minor leagues, Holden struggled through 46 games with the Canucks over three seasons.

Holden's struggles coincided with the emergence of some surprising depth at center ice in the Canucks organization. Brendan Morrison was acquired and would become the team's top center for the next few years. A young Henrik Sedin arrived and soon would become a superstar and best player in team history. Veteran Andrew Cassels played a couple of serviceable years, while the team, at that time, showed more interest in junior grads Harold Druken and Artem Chubarov. Throw in some cagey veterans like Harry York, Darby Hendrickson and Dave Scatchard, and Josh Holden became lost in the shuffle.

But Holden always kept a good perspective about his place in the organization.

"They have an idea what they want from different guys. And if one of those guys fits a position, that's the way they're going to go.

"Last year, with the injury to my wrist, I think I was a little hesitant. Maybe I thought I was ready. But mentally I don't think I was ready. Mentally I wasn't strong enough to play and be the way [I needed to be] every night. They saw that and decided development was what I needed.

"You have to work your way up. It's like when you were a little kid and wanted a new bike. You're not going to get it until you've worked for it."

He never did find the right fit, not even with brief appearances in Carolina and Toronto before extending his career in Europe. He enjoyed several seasons in Switzerland and was also able to represent Canada internationally, winning the Spengler Cup in 2012.

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