When Markus Nutivaara arrived in Columbus, many fans could be excused if they wondered the heck this guy was.
A seventh-round pick in the 2015 draft, Nutivaara arrived for training camp in 2016 having never played North American hockey. The defenseman immediately proved his worth, though, earning a spot on a team that won a franchise-record 50 games by playing a smooth, north-south game focused on getting the puck up the ice.
Since then, the Finnish defenseman has become a dependable blueliner for the team, playing in more than 60 games in each of the past three seasons including a career-high 80 a season ago. In his NHL career, he has a 16-37-53 line in 215 career games, with two goals in the early going this year.
Video: CBJ@CAR: Nutivaara finishes Murray's great pass
What's Nutivaara like off the ice, though? BlueJackets.com caught up with Nutivaara for five questions about his life away from the rink.
1. What's behind the decision to grow out your hair this year? It's taken off a little bit.
"I went to the barber last year here and my English is not that good, so I went there and didn't get the result I wanted. It was kind of hilarious. Now there's a big barrier to go there again, so I'm just going to wait it out until it gets too gross that I have to go or my girlfriend takes me there and forces me to do it."
Do you like the way that it looks now?
"It's OK. It looks cool when you have a hat on, but it's pretty tough when you have to do your hair. It doesn't keep in the same place. It has its own life. That's why I like to wear a hat."
2. You and your family have horses, correct? Is it just one horse or two?
"Two. One pony and one like, real horse. The pony is Pepper, and the racehorse is Too Macho For You."
Have you always been interested in them?
"When I was a kid, I was going on road trips with the horses and riders and stuff like that. My family was pretty close to other families that had horses, so it's been from when I was a kid. Then after I went for hockey, I couldn't go (on those trips) anymore. I don't know much about it, but I like to watch and see how my family's horse is doing. Everybody owns a part of it. It hasn't raced yet, but he's going to race this summer. It's going to be exciting."
3. Is there a player you looked up to growing up or modeled your game after?
"There were many players that I picked up one thing off of and wanted to add that to my game. It wasn't just one player, so it's kind of a hard question for me. There's many players."
Did you have a favorite player to watch, then, growing up?
"Yeah, that was the Finnish defenseman, I think he played here in Columbus, Petteri Nummelin. That was a favorite. He had most of the things that I wanted to have."
Were you excited, then, to be drafted by the Blue Jackets considering he played here?
"I didn't even know he played here. I would watch him in the World Championships and stuff like that. That's how you get to know all the NHL players when you live in Finland."
4. Speaking of Finland, you're from Oulu, which is in the northern part of the country on the Gulf of Bothnia, which separates Finland and Sweden. What's it like up there?
"They call us hillbillies, but I think we're real easygoing. We mind our own business. We are very Finnish people. We do sauna, we work like 12 hours a day. Everyone is a workaholic and stuff like that. It's so dark (half the year), so everyone is working. The ocean is next to us, too, so it's like half a mile to the coast. It's beautiful. A lot of forest and stuff like that. I'm there every summer. It's a nice area, and I get to be there for the best part of it with the sun shining all the time."
5. You're a professional athlete, but is there a sport that you are just terrible at?
"I started golf two years ago, but I'm still really bad at it. I just haven't figured it out. I need to be better at it. I really suck at it."
You didn't play in the Blue Jackets golf outing this year, but would you want to?
"Maybe. When I'm better. It's so hard."
Now that we can relate to.