Markus Nutivaara has played with a strong determination this season.
The 23-year old Finnish defenseman is in his second NHL season, and hasn't left the Blue Jackets' lineup since being recalled from the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League on Oct. 15, a span of 16 games.
Nutivaara's motivation wasn't merely the goal of getting back to the NHL, though. It was a little more visceral than that, and tied to his unsuccessful bid to make the season-opening roster for Columbus.
"It wasn't that kind of motivation," Nutivaara said Tuesday, after practice at Nationwide Arena. "I was just so mad. I was so mad. I think that gave me a big push."
Who was he mad at?
"Everybody," Nutivaara said, smiling. "Mostly at me. I didn't play that well [in training camp], so that's why I was mad."
Nutivaara underwent hip surgery in the off-season, but recovered in time and came to camp looking to earn an NHL role. He had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 66 games for Columbus last season, as a rookie, and added a goal and assist in two playoff games.
Regardless, he didn't have a spot assured on the Jackets' roster, and was the odd man out between three guys vying for the last two defense spots. Gabriel Carlsson and Scott Harrington, who would require going through waivers, were the other two.
Nutivaara didn't require waivers to be assigned to Cleveland, but that was no consolation.
"I was so mad, and that went for a couple days," he said. "Then I was just like, 'OK, I'm going to be here. Just do [your] best.'"
He wasn't there long.
Nutivaara played three games with Cleveland, posting a minus-2 rating, before he was recalled by the Blue Jackets. Carlsson was injured Oct. 13 against the New York Rangers, and Nutivaara filled his spot on the third defense pairing, playing with Ryan Murray.
He hasn't left the lineup since, while Carlsson is now in Cleveland getting back up to speed after missing 10 games with his injury.
"I think his confidence level is as high as I've seen it," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said of Nutivaara. "I just think he feels he belongs in the league, not just trying to be in the league, at the toughest position to play. It takes a while. It's really encouraging."
Nutivaara assisted on the Jackets' first two goals in a 3-2 victory Monday at the Buffalo Sabres, and has eight points (all assists).
"It's been a little time, so I'm a little bit calmed down now, but I still try to remember [that feeling of being sent down]," Nutivaara said. "I don't want to go back there."
News & Notes
SEDLAK'S BACK: Lukas Sedlak is a quick healer. After sustaining an ankle injury in practice Oct. 23, the gritty center was supposed to miss approximately six weeks. Instead, he'll draw back into the Blue Jackets' lineup against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m., FS-Ohio, Fox Sports Go, 97.1 FM) - four weeks and two days since the injury.
"You don't feel 100 percent, I guess, every time when you come back, but I feel good enough that I think I can help the team and be good out there," said Sedlak, who's skated in practices for a week. "I think it's a week or so [early], a little bit faster than expected, so I'm really happy about it. I was really miserable watching the games. It's boring on the bike and stuff like that. I was bored, and now I'm happy to be back."
Tortorella plans to put Sedlak right back into the roles he occupied prior to the injury, centering the fourth line and killing penalties.
"He'll get involved in it right away," Tortorella said. "He'll help us taking face-offs also. It's not about easing them in, when they've been hurt. He's going to play."
Sedlak said skating full speed isn't an issue. The only concern is muscle atrophy.
"It's fully healed," he said. "It's just a little bit weak, because I didn't really do anything with my ankle for three weeks. So, it's going to take a little time to get back to 100 percent, but I think it's fully healed."
TORTORELLA OPEN TO FOLIGNO AT WING: Sedlak's absence led to Pierre-Luc Dubois getting to play center this season, and there's a chance he might remain in the middle when Alexander Wennberg returns from an upper-body injury.
Whenever that happens, captain Nick Foligno could shift back to his more comfortable spot on the wing. Foligno was asked to play center this season, after William Karlsson was taken in the expansion draft, and things started out great.
He's now gone 12 straight games without a point, matching the longest drought of his NHL career, and Tortorella is open to moving him out of the middle.
"I'm going to try and do everything I can to help Nick along here," Tortorella said. "He's at the point where he's beating [himself] up so bad, we've got to try and help him out. If [Wennberg] comes back, I like what [Dubois] has done in the middle."
GET THAT JACKET A JACKET: Cam Atkinson is looking forward to playing his 400th career NHL game Wednesday, which is a milestone that was marked by Columbus in past seasons by a unique tradition.
"It's one of those milestones where it's pretty special," said Atkinson, who signed a seven-year contract extension with the Blue Jackets on Friday. "Hopefully I get a leather jacket. I know [Brandon Dubinsky] and [Jack Johnson] said when they hit 400, they got those nice [letterman's] jackets, with the learther sleeves, so I'm going to be asking around and say, 'Hey, I want a jacket.'"