We’ve reached No. 8 of The Cannon’s Top 25 Under 25 Countdown, ranking young Columbus Blue Jackets by more than 120 reader votes. Throughout the month of August, we’ll reveal a new player each weekday based on your ranking.
#8 Markus Nutivaara
8th out of 55 eligible players (1961 points)
Highest placement: #3 (1 ballot)
Most common placement: #5 (23 ballots)
Birthdate: June 6, 1994
Birthplace: Oulu, Finland
Weight: 192 lbs
Acquired: Drafted by Columbus in Round 7 of the 2015 draft (#189 overall)
2017-18 marked Nutivaara’s breakout year. The seventh-round pick delivered a strong sophomore season, improving his numbers across the board with a rotating cast of defensive partners. Nutivaara showed some offensive improvement from his rookie campaign (seven goals and 16 assists) and emerged from a crowded group of defensemen before injuries caused him to miss time down the stretch.
His rapid improvement was enough for the Jackets to sign him to a four-year, $10.8 million contract extension in March. Clearly, 2017-18 showed that Nutivaara belongs on the Jackets and the organization trusts him on the ice.
Nutivaara’s stock rose last year and there’s no reason to think it won’t for 2018-19. He won’t crack the top pairing as long as Seth Jones and Zach Werenski can stand up without falling over, but his play last year helped keep the d-corps afloat while the Jack Johnson/David Savard pairing turned back into a pumpkin. He showed that he can be productive with—and raise the game of—just about anyone in the lineup, but perhaps the Jackets will find a forever friend for Nuti.
Nutivaara, Jones and Savard are the three right-handed defensemen with the big club right now. Nutivaara could supplant Savard on the second pairing with Ryan Murray, but that may not happen right out of the gate. By all accounts, he’s universally liked and has drawn rave reviews for his passing and vision. At 24 years old, the Finnish d-man has clawed his way from third-tier Finnish junior hockey to the final round of the draft to a bona fide NHL role, and there doesn’t appear to be much slowdown in sight.