A Returning Gustav Nyquist Will Give The Young Columbus Blue Jackets A Big Boost In Veteran Leadership

By Ed Francis on August 16, 2021 at 8:20 am
Gustav Nyquist was sorely missed during the Columbus Blue Jackets disappointing 2020-21 season.
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

There is no distinct statistic that measures a players' leadership.

But if there were, Gustav Nyquist would be near the top of any team he's a part of.

The Columbus Blue Jackets will desperately need that as they enter year one of a (hopefully) short-term rebuild.

Nyquist, who will be 32 when the season starts, missed the entire 2020-21 season as he recovered from a November 2020 surgery to repair a labral tear in his left shoulder. Had the Blue Jackets been in contention in the final few weeks of the season or made a fifth consecutive postseason, it's likely that Nyquist would have been able to return to the lineup. Alas, Columbus was nowhere near contending and the easy decision was made to shut it down for the season and focus on 2021-22. 

The Blue Jackets fell so far out of contention that the decision was made to move several key long-time players and leaders. At the trade deadline, captain Nick Foligno was dealt to Toronto, as was ten-year veteran Riley Nash. David Savard, who spent his entire decade-long career with the Blue Jackets, was shipped to Tampa Bay. Cam Atkinson, yet another ten-year NHL'er, was dealt to Philadelphia earlier in the summer. 

With Foligno's 14 seasons in the NHL, the departure of just those four players meant that the Blue Jackets lost nearly a half-century (44 years) of NHL experience. While the Blue Jackets added Jakub Voracek and Sean Kuraly to offset some of that, it's no doubt that Columbus needs players like Nyquist to provide stability and support to a team whose best players are generally 25-years-old or younger. 

Nyquist had just eight minor penalties in 70 regular season games with the Blue Jackets in the 2019-20 season, and has only 28 penalty minutes over his last 151 nhl games.

Nyquist earned a reputation as a responsible, fundamentally-sound player during five full seasons in Detroit -- but it's always been a part of his game. While a member of the Red Wings, head coach Mike Babcock referred to a younger Nyquist as "a really intelligent player."

"He's got hockey IQ off the chart," said Babcock in 2014. "He makes good plays, he can shoot the puck, he's got a good release but he gets himself in good spots."

He's only become more intelligent as his NHL tenure nears 600 games. Staying out of the box can often be a difficult task for young teams, but get this: Nyquist has picked up a total of 14 minor penalties since the start of the 2018-19 season; a span of 151 games. That's one penalty roughly every 11 games. Not bad for a young team that will need to learn how to play penalty-free hockey. 

The versatile forward gives more than veteran leadership; he's also a talented player. In 2019-20, his first season with the Blue Jackets, Nyquist scored 15 goals and added 27 assists for a 42-point performance in 70 games. Along with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Boone Jenner, Nyquist was one of only three Columbus skaters to play in every game until the NHL went on hiatus as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Nyquist' scoring production will be needed this year to keep the Blue Jackets competitive. As he's likely to be opposite Oliver Bjorkstrand on the second line, the opportunities for points should come regularly. 

But even if explosive numbers aren't there, and they almost certainly won't be, the most important role Nyquist will play on the Nationwide Arena ice this season won't be how often his name pops up in the box score.

It'll be his tutelage to the players whose name will pop up in the box score for seasons to come.