In a sports world where the most important ability is often availability, Gus Nyquist was a picture of consistency throughout the first nine years of his NHL career.
Three times he had played all 82 games, and the veteran winger also skated in all 70 the Blue Jackets played in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 campaign. Add in playing 81 games in the 2018-19 season he split between Detroit and San Jose, and Nyquist -- who never missed an extended period of time because of injury as a pro -- had developed a reputation as a player who would always be there.
But that kind of dependability eventually took its toll, with Nyquist playing through a nagging shoulder injury when the Blue Jackets took to the ice in the 2020 playoff bubble. A scan later showed a labral tear in his left shoulder, resulting in surgery that cost him the start of the 2021 season.
And by the time he was ready to play, there was no reason to put Nyquist out there, as the season he missed turned out to be a tough one for the Union Blue. That meant a player who prides himself on never missing a game ended up missing a whole season.
"It's never fun to miss games," he said. "This was a new situation for me. I've never been injured at all before to be honest. I've been real fortunate. This was kind of a big one, to have that as your first one. (The surgery) is something that had to get done, but it was really tough obviously to miss what turned out to be a whole season.
"You sit there and watch games and you feel bad for the guys, the way the season went. It wasn't what anyone thought or wanted it to be, so it was tough to sit and watch, that's for sure."
The Blue Jackets missed the 32-year-old's consistency a season ago, as Nyquist played in just about every situation for Columbus in his debut season with the team in 2019-20, notching 15 goals and 42 points while playing more than 18 minutes per game. Considering the season ended a month early because of the coronavirus pandemic, those numbers were almost right in line with his career production averages of around 20 goals and 50 points per season throughout his career with the Red Wings and Sharks.
Video: All the best of Gus Nyquist.
But if there's a silver lining to what Nyquist went through last year, it's that the Swede is now fully healthy and ready to return after the year off.
"The shoulder, it was something that had to get done and it feels really nice," Nyquist said. "I played with that and was dealing with that for a while, especially in the bubble. I was struggling, and that's kind of when we knew we had to get something done. Obviously coming back and playing a game feeling healthy will be awesome."
And when Nyquist does take the ice, he'll see a much different cast of characters trying to help him win. Such names as Nick Foligno, David Savard, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones have been traded since Nyquist last took the ice, with the Blue Jackets acquiring a number of draft picks and young prospects over the past year.
"There's a lot of new faces," Nyquist said. "A lot of faces that are familiar to me are gone, guys that I am going to miss, guys that I've gotten to become very close to in these last two years. It was all of the older guys that left, but like you said, we have a lot of new excitement bring brought in and so it will be great first to meet them and then to have them on our team, so I can't wait to get going with them."
Where the return of Nyquist could be biggest for the Blue Jackets is in the leadership department. It didn't take Nyquist long to earn the respect of the locker room when he arrived in Columbus upon signing a four-year contract as a free agent in the summer of 2019, and it's clear the organization values his leadership skills.
With the Blue Jackets now in the market to replace much of the leadership core with the trades of captain Foligno and alternates Atkinson and Jones, Nyquist will have even more chances to step up and could even wear a letter on his sweater at some point.
"We are going to miss a lot of the guys that left, their leadership," Nyquist said. "It's an opportunity for other guys to step up. For me, personally, I don't think I'm going to change the way I am or anything like that. I think we still have a lot of leadership in this room with Boone (Jenner) and (Jake) Voracek coming in now -- he's an older guy in the league who is going to be a good voice in the locker room -- and younger guys that can take another step in that department.
"So I think we're comfortable where we're at there. We feel like we have a lot of good leaders in there. We'll miss those guys for sure, but we're looking forward to what we have in our locker room."
The veteran last played a game Aug. 19, 2020, when he suited up for the Blue Jackets in the Toronto playoff bubble for the season-ending Game 5 loss to Tampa Bay in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. More than a year later, he's excited to get back out there when the Blue Jackets start camp Sept. 22 and play their first preseason games the following week.
"I can't wait to get going here," Nyquist said. "I think camp is going to be awesome to be back with the guys again, and hopefully it will be nice to get a few preseason games before the real thing starts. I haven't played since he bubble and that's over a year now. It's pretty crazy, but I can't wait to play a game again."