We’re continuing our review of the 2016-17 Blue Jackets, one player at a time.
As a reminder, we’re utilizing Ryan Stimson’s “Playing Styles” as a starting point to look at each player. Based on 5v5 data analysis, Stimson identified four archetypes each for defensive and offensive players.
Two important things: first, don’t let the words he chooses for each style’s title be the only understanding of each type that you have. If you haven’t already read Ryan’s work, we highly recommend doing so. Second, look at each player’s shape as a measure against each axis. The total area doesn’t matter, rather, what matters is how strong they are (how much farther out in the wheel) on each measure.
For each side of the ice, we’ve also picked two players (one on each extreme of a good to not-so-good scale) to show as comparison for each Jackets player. For forwards, you’ll see each Jacket lined up against Sidney Crosby and Cody McLeod. And for defensemen, your comparison points are Mark Borowiecki and Victor Hedman. We’ll leave it to you to figure out who of those combinations is on the good and not-so-good side of the scales.
It’s also important to note that these visuals are based on the past two seasons of data, and that this past season’s information is still incomplete.
PLAYER: Markus Nutivaara
ROLE: Defenseman (L)
2016-17 REGULAR SEASON: 66 GP, 2+5=7
2016-17 PLAY-OFFS: 2 GP, 1+1=2
PLAYING STYLE: Defensive-Oriented (based on 237 minutes of tracked data)
You would not be alone if you had taken a quick look at the Columbus Blue Jackets opening night roster, saw the name “Markus Nutivaara”, and thought “…who?” The young Finn came out of nowhere to make the team out of camp, and became a regular on the third pair. He earned some trust throughout the season before injuries crept in to his game and limited his effectiveness.
Nutivaara played last season with Karpat in the Finnish Liiga and, in his age 22 season, was one of the better defenders in the league. When it was announced that he was coming to North America for 2016/17, many (including myself) had him penciled in as a strong contributor in the top four to the Cleveland Monsters. But after wowing coaches and management during the pre-season, playing big minutes in all situations and showing he could handle working with both Seth Jones and David Savard, it was announced that he would be on the game one Blue Jackets roster.
Nutivaara played almost the entire season on the third pairing, largely alongside another left-shot defender, Ryan Murray. The pairing seemed interesting on paper, but with one player on their wrong hand every night, it was not as strong for either player as it may have been in a simple left shot-right shot pairing.
The 23-year-old missed a few games in the second half of the season, and was rotated in and out of the line-up down the stretch, which seemed confusing at the time. Post-playoffs, it was announced that Markus had undergone surgery on his hip, due to an injury which was not publicized during the season, but had been apparently hampering him for nearly the entirety of the 2017 calendar year. This may explain away some of his up and down play, especially later in the season. It would have been interesting to see how Nutivaara continued to develop if he were fully healthy.
Nutivaara showed occasional flashes of offensive skill, rushing pucks up ice and into the zone and zooming around defenders. Every now and then, we saw a stretch pass that made you sit back and think, “where did that come from?!”. He has mobility in the defensive zone, and is able to keep on attackers and force them to the outside. Nutivaara made enough plays throughout his 68 games with the Jackets in the regular season and play-offs to make you think that there’s definitely potential for him to be more than a #6/#7 guy. Nutivaara also had the task of playing many games on his wrong side of the ice, which is a tall task for any player and has been noted to produce a large drop in production and effectiveness for even the most seasoned of defenders. His performance in Game Four of the first round play-off series against the Penguins was easily his best NHL game, as he put up two points and showed ability to get into the play, lead rushes, and be a force at both ends of the rink in pressure situations.
Consistency was never a strong point. As mentioned above, it was an up and down season, and you could never pin down exactly what to expect out of Nutivaara on a game-to-game basis. It’s not unexpected to see that from a rookie playing his first season of North American hockey, but it was a weakness. While Markus showed mobility in the defensive zone, oftentimes he would be a hair slow on reaction time to an attacker’s moves, leaving him prone to being beaten down low. Board battles are not his strong suit, and improving on the strength front is going to be key for Nutivaara’s ongoing defensive development. In the future, it would be nice to see Nutivaara unleash his offensive instincts on a much more frequent basis. He had some offensive aggression at points during the season, but too often it seemed as though he was playing a purposely passive game for fear of giving up big plays. He’s not got the best shot, but his passing game is above average and his skating is a big enough strength that he should be able to rush the puck more. His performance in Gave Five of the first round play-off series against the Penguins was arguably his worst game, as he was victimized by the speed of the Penguins forecheck, and was skated around and dominated down low.
Fortunately for Nutivaara, the blueprint for a smart, reliable two-way defender is there. Recovering from the hip injury that cost him a healthy back-end of the season should hopefully leave him fully healthy for camp next year and ready to pick up where he left off. Markus has likely carved himself a role on the third pairing for 2017/18, barring a disaster of a training camp or the sudden emergence of Gabriel Carlsson as more than a big body who can look the part.
Perhaps looking at Nutivaara’s “Playing Style” in the player header is a good jumping off point for where he can improve: yes, he played a passive, defensive-oriented game for the majority of the 16/17 season, but there’s definitely potential for that to move into the “Balanced” or “Puck-Mover” category if his development curve continues on this track. If he finds more comfort playing with a surgically repaired hip, gains some confidence building off of his 2016/17 season, and is able to develop some upper body strength to help muscle off attackers down low, there’s no reason to think that there won’t be a major improvement from Markus Nutivaara in the 2017/18 season.
– Jeremy Crowe
Follow me on twitter, @307x.
Players already reviewed: