Gustav Nyquist has been a dependable player for the Columbus Blue Jackets, the same steady performer who helped the Griffins win their first Calder Cup 10 seasons ago.
Story by Mark Newman
Much has changed in the life of Gus Nyquist during the past decade.
• At the age of 33, he has become a respected NHL veteran, considered one of the most consistent and dependable players in the league.
• He is in the last season of a four-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets, his second team since leaving Detroit after eight seasons. Many of his former Red Wings teammates are now retired.
• Six years ago, he watched Nyquist, a horse named in his honor and a fifth-generation descendant of Secretariat, win the 2016 Kentucky Derby.
• He is now the father of two beautiful daughters with his wife Danielle, whom he met while attending the University of Maine.
One thing that has not changed is Nyquist’s memory of the 2013 NHL and AHL playoffs. Next spring will mark the 10th anniversary of the Griffins’ remarkable postseason run to the organization’s first Calder Cup championship.
“I feel old – it seems like a long time ago now,” Nyquist chuckled during a recent interview via Zoom from his home in Columbus. “I have a lot of good memories from that year of playing in Grand Rapids and winning the Calder Cup.”
Although Nyquist had spent the majority of the 2012-13 season in Grand Rapids, he finished the year in Detroit with a Red Wings club that was primed for a promising playoff push.
Alas, it was not to be.
“After being up three games to one against Chicago, we ended up losing in the second round. We lost Game 7 in overtime, which I still remember clearly to this day,” said Nyquist, who assisted on the Red Wings’ lone goal in the 2-1 loss, a game-tying, third-period tally by Henrik Zetterberg. “It was a tough exit.”
Nyquist contends the Red Wings were good enough to win it all.
“Obviously, we were heartbroken,” he said. “We felt like we had a good chance to go all the way. We had a great team but we just couldn’t find a way to close out the series. We felt like we played really well and we had our chances, but we were up against another really good team because the Blackhawks went on to win the Cup that year.”
The hockey season, however, was not over for Nyquist, nor was it finished for his teammates Joakim Andersson and Danny DeKeyser.
“We were on the bus after that tough loss when Kenny [Holland, Red Wings GM] told us that we were getting on a plane the next night to go to Oklahoma City,” Nyquist recalled. “We flew into Oklahoma, but the game was postponed because of severe weather.”
Tornadoes had hit the Sooner State, but the Barons hockey team had something else to weather. The addition of the battle-tested Red Wings trio gave the Griffins a second wind, helping the visitors erase a 2-1 game deficit by winning the next two games by 4-0 and 3-0 scores.
After a 4-3 loss in Grand Rapids, the Griffins qualified for the Calder Cup Finals by eliminating Oklahoma City with a 5-4 victory in Game 7. “To be able to get another chance to win a championship was really exciting,” Nyquist said. “It was bonus hockey for us and it turned out to be a really good experience to rejoin a great group of guys.”
Nyquist had played a large portion of the season with the Griffins, so it was not like he was unfamiliar with his teammates. In 58 games with Grand Rapids during 2012-13, he had recorded 60 points (23-37— 60), so he felt confident that he could contribute right from the start.
“We found our roles right away and everything kinda clicked,” he said. “That can be a challenge at times, especially when you’re joining a team where everything has been working. Sometimes things don’t work the same with new personnel.”
Nyquist did not need to worry. Teammate Tomas Tatar was the playoff MVP with 16 goals in 24 games, Jan Mursak scored several timely goals, and goaltender Petr Mrazek was practically standing on his head to stop nearly every puck in sight.
But Nyquist also remembers how the team’s veterans – captain Jeff Hoggan, Nathan Paetsch, Brennan Evans and Triston Grant – kept everyone on the same page and managed to temper their emotions from getting too high or too low.
“I had played quite a few games with the Griffins during the regular season and those guys were tremendous leaders in Grand Rapids,” he said. “They more than pulled their weight and they kept the team on track for the whole playoff run.”
Although none of the quartet was a big point producer, they collectively showed the will and determination necessary to win in the playoffs. “We don’t win the Calder Cup without those guys, that’s for sure,” he said. “If you’re going to go all the way, you’re going to have good leaders in your locker room.”
The whole experience stands out for Nyquist, because he soon learned that long playoff runs are the exception rather than the rule for most players.
Six years after the Griffins’ first Calder Cup title, Nyquist encountered his only other extended playoff push after being dealt at the deadline to San Jose. He appeared in 20 postseason games with the Sharks before being eliminated in the conference finals.
Playoff hockey is an entirely different challenge, according to Nyquist. “It’s a battle on every inch of the ice,” he said. “The physicality ramps up, so it’s hard to create chances and it’s hard to score goals. If it’s something that you haven’t experienced, it’s hard to describe. Your play has to jump to a whole other level in the playoffs.”
Following the 2018-19 postseason, Nyquist signed a four-year, $22 million contract with Columbus, where he has been a fixture ever since.
Nyquist had always managed to shake off the usual aches and pains of a protracted season, but the wear and tear of a long, grinding schedule finally caught up with him during his first postseason with the Blue Jackets in 2020. “During the playoffs, my arm would go numb after I shot the puck,” he said. “It got to the point where I felt like I couldn’t play anymore. We needed to do something about it.”
He underwent surgery to repair a labral tear in his left shoulder and ended up missing the entire COVID-19 season of 2020-21. It was a bit of a blessing in disguise, as his rehabilitation allowed him to spend more time with his young family.
“During the regular season, you’re on the road a lot so you don’t get to see your family as much as you would like, but everyone knows that’s part of the business,” he said. “It was a nice little bonus to be able to spend some time with them.”
Fully recovered, Nyquist appeared in all 82 games last season. It was the sixth time in eight years that he had played every game that he could.
“It was a great feeling to play all 82 and be back to 100 percent,” said Nyquist, who went 14 months between games. “It reminded me of how fortunate we are to be able to do what we love. It was nice to be back playing hockey again.”
Nyquist has proven to be a solid contributor in Columbus, where he has played up and down the lineup and skated in all situations, including special teams. He has become an adept penalty killer with the Blue Jackets. Last season, he finished tied for third in the NHL in shorthanded goals with four.
He owes his extra ice time to former Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella, who recognized Nyquist’s tools might make him an ideal candidate to be on the ice in shorthanded situations.
“Penalty killing became a new thing for me, ever since I joined Columbus,” he said. “It’s been fun to add another dimension to my game and hopefully I will continue to get better at it. I take a lot of pride in doing it and the whole group does as well.”
Nyquist said he enjoyed playing for Tortorella, who stepped down after the 2019-20 season and opened the door for Brad Larsen, one of his assistant coaches, to take over.
“I loved playing under Torts,” he said. “I thought he was an excellent coach, to be honest. He is a little more old-school, which I liked. He demanded hard work and Lars demands no less. There’s never any quit in our team and Lars expects your best effort every night. Both are tremendous behind the bench and similar in a lot of ways.”
Nyquist also has grown into a leadership role in Columbus. He was the second-oldest player in Columbus last season (Jakub Voracek is two weeks older) when he wore an “A” on his jersey as an alternate captain for the first time for the Blue Jackets.
“We’re a very young team – there’s a bit of an age gap between us and the next guy down,” he said. “It’s an honor to be an assistant, which was new for me here. I just try to be the best example, both on and off the ice, by working hard and carrying myself in a good way.”
Nyquist thinks back to his time with the Red Wings when he was surrounded by veterans who were ideal models for a young player.
“Coming up in the Detroit organization, I had great mentors like [Henrik] Zetterberg, [Niklas] Kronwall and [Pavel] Datsyuk,” he said. “I was very fortunate. Growing up around those guys, they taught me a lot, just being around the rink and how they prepared and how they carried themselves every day – all that stuff that goes into not only how they played but also how they carried themselves away from the ice.
“The thing that stood out to me was how they brought it every night. They rarely had a bad game. They were just good all the time. They were so consistent. That was something I admired and I’ve tried to do myself.”
Nyquist is excited about the new season. Like the Red Wings, the Blue Jackets have several high draft picks who could earn roster spots in the near future, plus Columbus signed Johnny Gaudreau to a seven-year, $68.25 million contract. Gaudreau had a 40-goal season a year ago with the Calgary Flames, finishing with 115 points in 82 games.
“He’s a big signing for us,” Nyquist said. “He was second in the league in points last season, so he’s going to be a huge help for our offense. Plus we have tons of young prospects who are looking really good, so we’re excited. The organization has been heading in the right direction from the time I’ve been here.”
Nyquist is in the last year of his contract, but he is hopeful of staying in Columbus. “We’ve really enjoyed our time in Columbus,” he said. “I’ve been treated great by the organization and my family loves it here. It’s the last year of my deal, but we’ll see what happens and take it as it comes.”
Could he ever find his way back to the Wings? Never say never.
“I have all good memories from playing in Grand Rapids to going to Detroit,” he said. “I can honestly say that they were two great places to play. It seems like a long time ago now, but the organization helped groom me into the player I am today.”