In his third season with the Blue Jackets, Markus Nutivaara solidified his spot on the blue line despite statistically having a subpar season compared to 2017-18.
When Seth Jones was out at the beginning of the season, Nutivaara stepped up and took on a top four role. Then when Ryan Murray went down at the end of the season, he stepped back up again to help make the Blue Jackets' top four a formidable group to go against.
Unfortunately, his season ended on a sour note after taking a hit to the head from Nikita Kucherov, who was only suspended for one game despite Nutivaara missing the rest of the playoffs, and the Blue Jackets missed his speed, passing, and offensive tendencies during the second round against Boston.
He now heads into the second season of his four-year bridge deal that will see him become an UFA in 2022, and another year or two as a talented and versatile top six defender, who can slide up and down the lineup is likely going to be his role. But if the Blue Jackets decide to move a defenseman, Nutivaara is ready to step up and take on a top four role in the NHL.
While the four-year contract he signed last offseason made his inclusion in the Blue Jackets' plan on defense guaranteed, he cemented it with his play this season.
He may have taken a small step back offensively from last season, but Nutivaara became a better all-around player for the Blue Jackets in his third season with the club.
He logged over a minute and a half more per game than last season, Nutivaara moved up and down the blue line due to injuries. And while he didn't produce like last season (two fewer points in 19 more games), he faced tougher competition and rose to the occasion.
When it comes to defense, the Blue Jackets are stacked – and now have the luxury of having more top four defensemen on their team than they have spots, but for a team that has issues staying healthy on the blue line, it may not just be a luxury, but a necessity.
Highlights of the Campaign
When he came to the Blue Jackets, Nutivaara was seen as a good offensive defenseman who needed to work on the defensive side of his game and over the past three seasons, he has done just that.
As the first highlight shows, he is not afraid of jumping up into the rush and help create offensive chances. He finds and open spot in front of the net, presents a target for Bjorkstrand, then buries the shot.
The second highlight shows how far he has come in developing his defensive game. While you would expect any defenseman or forward in this spot to try and clear the puck, Nutivaara gets the inside of his man to create a barrier between him and the net, then keeps his eye on the puck after it hits Bob which allows him to see the puck trickle through towards the net and since he is already in a good position, he easily clears the puck. This is proof that he has been working one his defensive positioning and IQ.
Nutivaara has three years left on his current deal and will continue to grow into a better defenseman for the Blue Jackets and in year four of his deal, his $2.7M salary should be a steal as top-four minutes become the norm for the Finnish defenseman.