Battalion Breakdown is a closer look at the Blue Jackets' past season on a player-by-player basis. Today, BlueJackets.com continues the series by looking at Markus Nutivaara's season and how it impacted Columbus in the 2018-19 campaign.
Birth date: June 6, 1994
Height/Weight: 6-1, 191
Stats (Games, G-A-P, point shares): 80 GP, 5-16-21, 4.2 PS
Contract: Signed through 2020-21 season
If there's a player who serves as the shining example of how this Blue Jackets front office can find talent in later rounds, it's Markus Nutivaara.
A seventh-round pick of Columbus (No. 189 overall) in the 2015 draft, Nutivaara had played a few games with Finland's international junior teams and had all of 35 games under his belt at the Liiga level. But the Blue Jackets and Finnish general manager Jarmo Kekalainen made a move to select him.
Why hadn't more teams possessed a handle on Nutivaara's skills?
"When I came here I didn't know anything about defending," the defenseman said.
That seems unlikely -- though one-on-one defending and physical player were thought to be the biggest areas for improvement for Nutivaara when he arrived -- but it's fair to say Nutivaara has become one of the smoother two-way defenders in the CBJ arsenal.
He's not a big goal scorer, with just 14 in three seasons, but he plays a calm game and at his best has the playmaking ability to create dangerous breakouts.
Not bad for a seventh-round pick.
Entering the season: After playing in 66 and 61 games in his first two years in Columbus, respectively, he was tabbed as someone expected to be a key part of the defensive corps. The hope was after a 7-16-23 line during his sophomore campaign that Nutivaara would continue to build his chops on both sides of the ice.
What happened: Instead, it wasn't a smooth season for Nutivaara, who even saw himself be a healthy scratch for one game, the Jan. 31 contest at Winnipeg. Confidence seemed to be an issue at times, as Nutivaara at times struggled with his offensive game and it would bleed into his defensive performance as well.
"He's just been inconsistent," head coach John Tortorella said at the time. "He hasn't moved the puck that well. The biggest thing with him is I think he's lost a lot of battles as far as in our end zone, but knowing him he's going to bounce back."
He did just that. By the end of the campaign, Nutivaara again showed the solid offensive instincts that make him a top-four NHL defenseman, and the Finn played that role at the end of the season as his game rounded into form by the final weeks of the campaign.
Come March, Nutivaara was excellent, posting five assists in 15 games with a plus-7 rating while playing nearly 20 minutes per night. He was also key in the Jackets' opening two wins vs. Tampa Bay in the playoffs, but the hit he took from a frustrated Nikita Kucherov late in Game 2 would end Nutivaara's season as he suffered an oblique injury on the play.
It's an innocuous point if you just look at the score sheet -- a second assist for Nutivaara on a goal the Blue Jackets scored during a late-season win at Nashville. But it was earned on a pass that was likely the best of the year for Nutivaara, who had his fair share of long breakout dishes leading to scores. But this one was special, as Nutivaara's no-look feed on a delayed penalty led to a goal by David Savard.
Nutivaara raced into the zone on the right side as the Jackets had six attackers, found some space, and unleashed a diagonal pass all the way from the wall to Artemi Panarin in front without even looking up. Panarin corralled it and fed the onrushing Savard, whose goal gave Columbus a 2-1 lead late in the first. The Jackets never trailed from there in the 5-2 win March 30, the team's fourth in a row on the way to clinching a playoff berth.
Video: CBJ@NSH: Savard pots Panarin's pass in tight
By the Numbers
17:41: After playing 13:13 per game as a rookie and 16:02 per game last year, Nutivaara played a career-high 17:41 this past season. That total went up to 21:36 during his two playoff contests vs. the Lightning as he was paired with David Savard.
50.8: Another sign of Nutivaara's maturation as a player is the fact he was given 50.8 percent of his zone starts in the defensive zone. A full 61.0 percent of Nutivaara's starts as a rookie came in the offensive zone.
5.1: One year after shooting 8.9 percent on the way to seven goals, Nutivaara saw his shooting percentage fall to 5.1 percent. Could a bounce back season be in the cards next year?