Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin - USA TODAY Sports

Markus Nutivaara Is the Young Defenceman the Canucks Should Be Targetting

After broaching the possibility of a Noah Hanifin trade, it became abundantly clear that the ends likely wouldn’t justify the means for the Canucks. Put simply, Hanifin’s a good player — one that fits a need for this team, but the cost of prying him from the Hurricanes likely exceeds the value he’d provide.

But what if I told you there was another young defenceman that shared an eerily similar statistical and underlying profile as Hanifin — one that could likely be had for a fraction of the cost?

Enter 23-year-old, Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Markus Nutivaara.

Player Shoots GP G A P CF%
Markus Nutivaara Left 61 7 16 23 53.6


Both Hanifin and Nutivaara were effective at driving possession and offence from the backend in sheltered roles.

Nutivaara’s 23 points might not jump out at you, but it’s made all the more impressive when you contextualize the results. For starters, he scored those points in just 61 games. That scoring pace, if prorated over the 79 games Hanifin played, would leave Nutivaara with 30 points — just two shy of Hanifin’s total.

While it’s true that both players registered most of their points at even-strength, it’s Hanifin that got meaningful power-play time — upwards of 100 additional minutes compared to Nutivaara to be precise. The deployment discrepancy resulted in seven power-play points for Hanifin compared to just two for Nutivaara.

In fact, isolating even-strength production shines the Finnish defender in a brighter light than even Hanifin.

5v5 Offence Nutivaara Hanifin
Points 19 23
P/GP 0.31 0.29
Primary Points % 73.7 69.6
P/60 1.24 1.07

Nutivaara’s scoring efficiency is highlighted when looking at five-on-five points per hour. Here, his production rate is good enough to slot into the top 10 among all NHL defencemen(minimum 600 minutes TOI).

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What may surprise you in all this is that Nutivaara’s offensive game was relatively unheralded coming into this season. His traditional calling card has been as a reliable, stay-at-home defenceman that can move the puck up the ice, but this year he became more active as he got comfortable with John Tortorella’s system.

In this system, the Blue Jackets rely on their defenders to push the pace of the group’s offence by playing an active north-south game. As such, Nutivaara was given the green light to expand his game and become a more dynamic threat on the rush — whether it be joining the play as a late trailer or leading transition plays himself.

Affording the smooth-skating Finn that freedom was necessary for him to expand his offensive arsenal because he doesn’t have the greatest shot or the most creative skill set to capitalize on sustained offensive zone pressure.

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Instead, Nutivaara’s game is predicated on using his vision and awareness to take calculated risks once he’s identified the opposing teams’ coverage deficiencies. He couples those smarts with exquisite passing accuracy and above average mobility to allow him to exploit those coverage holes and lapses. Usually, that means taking advantage of transition plays where the opposing team hasn’t established itself positionally.

In this clip, Nutivaara keeps his head up to look for the best entry option. He realizes that Nugent-Hopkins is late to take away his time and space, and so he takes advantage by gaining the zone and then cutting inside with the aid of his quick hands. Nutivaara knows exactly where his teammates are so he slips a backhand feed to Oliver Bjorkstrand, who finds the back of the net.

Most impressive about this play is that Nutivaara didn’t even need to hit full stride to complete the rush — it was all about using vision to identify the open seam to carry the puck.

Nutivaara’s penchant for capitalizing on open lanes lends itself as an asset on puck retrievals as well.

The pinpoint stretch pass is what likely stands out to most in the preceding clip, but pay attention to Nutivaara’s approach to the retrieval. He knows that the Bruins are going to change once they’ve dumped the puck in, and so he looks to take advantage of this by urgently orchestrating a swift counter-attack. The key to this play is how Nutivaara looks over his shoulder multiple times to survey the developing play before he collects the puck.

He then threads a beautiful saucer pass right onto Tyler Motte’s stick to spring him on a breakaway.

Plays similar to the clips above couple with impressive microdata to illustrate Nutivaara’s year over year improvement when it comes to both leading zone exits and offensive zone entries.

While he lacks the dynamic offensive traits to consistently crest 40 points, Nutivaara does boast a sound defensive package to go along with his puck moving abilities.

Defensively, Nutivaara is most effective in the neutral zone, where he uses his smarts to anticipate the opposition breakout as well as his mobility to maintain a tight gap. Those strengths led the 23-year-old to own the second-best percentage among Blue Jackets’ defencemen for preventing controlled offensive zone entries this season.

Regarding own zone play, Nutivaara is pretty reliable positionally, though he lacks the size and strength (only 178 pounds at 6’1″) to win battles along the boards consistently. It’s not for a lack of effort though — his competitiveness is particularly evident when you watch him box out and tie up forwards down low and near the goal mouth.

All this sounds fine and dandy, but the issue with sheltered players like Hanifin and Nutivaara is projecting how they may perform higher in the lineup. In Nutivaara’s case, his acclaimed defensive acumen attenuates that concern to a degree, but so too does the copiously favourable effect he had on his various partners’ ability to control shot attempts.

Each of the defenders that spent at least 100 minutes with Nutivaara on the ice saw their possession numbers plummet away from the former 7th round pick. Jack Johnson and David Savard were especially hit hard away from Nutivaara — indicating that it was indeed the Finnish defenceman who drove the success for his pairings.

Despite this solvent two-way performance, Nutivaara found himself buried on the depth chart, averaging just over 16 minutes a game on Columbus’ bottom pairing. It’s unclear whether he’ll receive additional opportunities next season when considering the possibility that either Jack Johnson or Ian Cole could return to the Blue Jackets.

Would Columbus Be Open To A Nutivaara Trade?

Columbus was quick to ink Nutivaara to an extension following his breakout year — locking him up for four years at an AAV of 2.7 million dollars. While it shows how much the Blue Jackets value the sophomore defenceman, they boast enough defensive depth to supplant Nutivaara’s loss, but more importantly, they have a need the Canucks can fill.

As it pertains to the former, Columbus has a slew of players that could fill a potential void left by Nutivaara in both the short and long-term. One option is the possibility of re-signing pending UFA Ian Cole, whom they acquired to solidify their top-4 at the trade deadline. Should they not have a desire to commit to Cole, they could also shift Ryan Murray to the left side given his alike handedness.

The Blue Jackets would also finally have the opportunity to give one of Gabriel Carlsson or Dean Kukan a look on the bottom pairing. 2015 1st round pick Carlsson, in particular, hopes to be a long-term fixture on the left side of the defence group.

Clearing the logjam on defence would certainly make things easier for the Blue Jackets, but it doesn’t make sense unless the Canucks are able to provide serious value for them. It just so happens to be that they have an expendable piece in Sven Baertschi that could be of interest to Columbus.

Baertschi would provide valuable scoring depth in the top-9 for a Blue Jackets’ squad that had just four forwards score more than 35 points. Out of that group, Artemi Panarin stood out as the only left-winger of the bunch.

It’d likely take additional pieces to convince the Jackets into making such a move, but it’d be well worth it to acquire a responsible, puck-moving defenceman of Nutivaara’s calibre. A trade for the 23-year-old Finn certainly wouldn’t be the flashy acquisition with Noah Hanifin still on the market, though there’s no shortage of evidence to support its merits as the more prudent deal in the long-term.

  • speering major

    Good article

    I think this is a much better alternative to going big on Hanifin. I think it also frees up Benning to move Tanev. It’s like tearing off a bandaid. The sooner we bring the pain, the sooner we can get over it and watch a contender.

  • Jamie E

    Not to be needlessly snarky, but aren’t people talking about a potential Hanifin trade because it is presumed he’s ACTUALLY available and being actively shopped by his current team?

    I mean, I could come up with a really long list of the defencemen that are better than Hanifin that probably aren’t on the trade block either. The main point of the article seems to be “Here’s a defenceman that most fans aren’t all that familiar with and if we suggest that Canucks trade for him instead, we’ll look really smart.”

    And suggesting Baertschi as the centrepiece for any trade for ANY young, serviceable NHL D-man? What is this, Canucks.com? The “other pieces” in your imaginary deal would have to include a player the Blue Jackets might actually want.

    • truthseeker

      To be fair to the writer, he has provided reasons why they might be inclined to trade him. A trade doesn’t always have to start with the team wanting to trade said player. Benning could contact them and ask. Trades do work like that as well.

      Yes, I agree that people here seem to be inflating the value of Sven when he probably carries next to no stock around the league. But there could be other options that don’t involve us giving up any of the main pieces for him.

      I argue the value of D more than anyone but it’s still important to remember that he’s still young enough where probably illogically, GM’s will still tag him with the “7th round pick” thing attached to his value. He still won’t be cheap, but this suggestion is a good one in comparison to what will obviously be the cost for a guy like Hanifin. It will take a couple of decent pieces that will still hurt a bit. Like say, Goldy and pick. Guadette and Sven. Dahlin + pick…etc…something like that. But to me that’s still pretty good to get a good solid sounding young D man who’s very cheap for the next 4 years.

      • Cageyvet

        I’m not sold on giving up Gaudette, Dahlen, Lind as has been suggested in other trades, and even Goldy makes me a bit nervous. On the surface, Nutivaara looks decent, but it’s still a bit of a gamble. I’d rather see how some of our prospects look when they’ve had more opportunity, as with both Nutivaara and Hanifin.

        I get it, the trade-off is you get the proven player, the other team gets the risk-reward scenario…..they might get a bust or they might end up with the best player in the trade by a fair margin. No single player is changing our fortunes in the next couple of seasons, I’ll take the risk-reward over playing it safe. Make these trades every day if it’s a clear win and you fleece somebody, such as Burrows for Dahlen, otherwise stick with the draft.

        I’m firmly in the camp with those who feel we shouldn’t seek out contracts that need protection in the Seattle expansion, another reason to add unproven youth over emerging youth right now.

        • truthseeker

          I’m not far off from where you are but I still think forwards like those you mentioned are more easily replaceable than the ability to find decent D either through trade or the draft.

          I also think, that while it is possible to win with an ‘average’ D, it’s probably not the best approach to try. There are far more toronto’s failing in the playoffs because of their lack of good defense than there are Pens who win without it. I don’t want to see the canucks neglect building the back end. The difference between the very good 10 canucks and the machine like juggernaut that the 11 canucks were was precisely the depth they got on D.

          If a solid D core piece can be added at a minimal loss of an unproven prospect or pick (in this case a lower round one) I think that’s something they need to do.

          As for the Seattle thing, I’ve mentioned before I think that’s a bit putting the cart before the horse. I don’t think passing up talent because you’re worried about potentially losing it some complex thought experiment about what expansion draft rules “might” be, is a prudent way to build a good team.

          Collect talent where ever and how ever you can. Deal with those problems when they happen. The ones who deserve to be protected will be and the ones that won’t…won’t. The canucks are not going to be deep enough even then to worry about losing a single player off the roster at this point.

          • Cageyvet

            I know the Seattle thing is a ways off, but the rules are supposed to be the same, so we should at least know where the risk lies.

            I hear you, without acquiring the talent, you gave nothing to protect anyway. I’m all for upgrading at D or anywhere else, I just don’t relish both overpaying and losing a protected slot at the same time. It’s kind of a moot point, I know we both agree these things are on a case-by-case basis, some deals you don’t say no, you deal with the ramifications later. Hall for Larsson, for example, who cares what other moves that spurs? You take the best player out of the deal and do so before the other GM changes his mind….

          • truthseeker

            Agreed. It needs to be a bit of a sales job on the canucks side, so they don’t give up anything of real significance. Of course, everyone seems to have a different definition of significance. lol.

  • Nuck16

    I’m all for going after young NHL players in trades if we can move veterans to get them. If not, then let’s focus on trading our vets for picks and prospects. We should not be trading away picks and prospects at this point…this is something we can look at doing in a couple years.

    • truthseeker

      I disagree. Every potential deal should be judged on it’s own merits and not some “formula” of never doing this or that. If you believe what you get back provides more value to the team than what you give then any deal should be done. If that means trading a prospect or pick then so be it.

  • I’d rather try to put together a package of scoring wingers and go for Klefbom. Edmonton desperately needs scoring wingers whereas CBJ has decent depth. Baertschi would be a 1LW with Edmonton but only a 3LW with Columbus.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    Is Baertschi really a Torts type of player though? I like Sven, but I’m not convinced of that. Either way, he’s not as valuable as Nutivaara is and you’d need to sweeten the pot a lot to make this work, either by including a non-Pettersson prospect (eg: Lind) or some draft picks. Seems like a guy we would want to try to acquire, and he’d certainly be cheaper than Hanifin, but not THAT much cheaper.

  • apr

    Sutter is a Torts kind of guy. Dubinski is also a buyout candidate. I’ve always been a huge Boone Jenner fan. So perhaps Sutter, Baer, and Hutton for Nutivarra, Dubinski, and Jenner.

  • myshkin

    i think there’s a really good chance that hutton will have an excellent year. he’ll be an rfa at the end of the season so he’s literally going to be playing for millions of dollars. he now knows what green expects of him and should show up for training camp in tip top shape. it’s time for ben to fish or cut bait.

  • Fred-65

    Columbus have 4 defencemen becoming FA’s this summer, so I can’t see them trading any of the remaining guys. But he’s the sort we should be looking at/for

  • The_Blueline

    Good article.

    I dont mind so much what player JB acquires but what he’s giving up for them. I dont want him to trade away picks and prospects. Tanev, Guddy, Sutter, Baertschi should be traded.

    As for Nutivaara, sounds like a decent piece. Too bad it’s not a righty

  • Holmes

    Think Johnson is a UFA and I read somewhere (maybe this site) that Savard regressed somewhat this past season, and then Murray is emerging as a china doll. Notionally, I like the Nutivaara trade buzz. And while the acquisition cost would be less than that for Hanifin, I still think it would be expensive to pry Nutivaara out of Columbus. Torts would rip Sven apart, so if you’re Davidson, that’s probably a non starter. So what do the Canucks really have to offer? Goldy and a second?

    • I highly doubt Johnson will return to CBJ. They were already trying to find opportunities to showcase his skills before he hits free agency. Johnson has already gone on the record saying he needs to score a major UFA contract to secure his family’s future. Don’t forget he’s been making nothing in the NHL thanks to his greedy parents that pissed away his money and forced him into bankruptcy.

      • TD

        The problem with that idea is that the Oilers need defensemen as bad or worse than they need wingers. Its really shocking considering how many really high draft picks they have had over the past decade (or more).

        • The Oilers need everything except a 1C. Looking at the Maroon TDL situation, Maroon was a bottom 6 winger that had a mediocre season playing with McDavid (27g, 15a) and trading him sent shockwaves through the fanbase. If losing a bottom 6 winger is making waves, the Oilers are in rough shape, winger-wise.

  • Smarttnet

    Something to pass by Benning. I don’t know much about analytics but trust Bennings scouting skills. If he approves I’m sure he’s already made the call on his GM speed dial. But tbe problem here is this kid is a left d. VAN has too many of them just like CBJ. VAN still needs to trade Hutton or some other left d first

  • LTFan

    With all the rumours about players the Canucks and I might add, other teams, might be interested in – they are only rumours. As has been mentioned on several occasions it is what the Canucks would have to give up to make a deal.

  • El Kabong

    I can’t believe our #7 over-all pick is in play.
    We need to get rid of the old guard, Tanev, Edler etc., first. Then once we have a return of young roster player, draft pick or prospect then we need to grow the players. Only then should we look at trading any thing to do with our future.