20. Markus Nurmi (Reader Rank: 22, Last Year: 23)
In his first full year playing in Finland’s top league, Markus Nurmi showed steady growth in all aspects of his game. Always thought of as a long-term project with a bottom-six projection and little offensive upside, Nurmi produced in a tough league for juniors to get ice-time while maintaining his steady, defensively responsible style of play. He started the year off slow, with two goals and two assists in his first 15 games, but finished on a run that included 10 points in 12 games. This brought his full season totals to 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points in 51 games, a mark good enough to rank him 10th among all U20 skaters in points-per-game.
With a large, lanky frame (6-foot-4, 192 pounds), Nurmi is at his best when he’s utilizing his long reach to protect the puck when he has it, and strip the opponents of it when he doesn’t. His shot is hard and quick, and when you combine that with his stickhandling ability in tight spaces, he’s got a good skillset for an energy-line forechecker that thrives along the boards and below the goal line.
As you can see on the player card below, courtesy of Simo Teperi, Nurmi’s 5-on-5 production last season was that of an average second line forward, and his coaching staff seemed to realize it, with the young forward getting 20 games of second line time after starting the year as TPS’ fourth line right-winger. When he was on the ice, his team regularly outshot and outscored their opponents relative to when he wasn’t on the ice (“shot impacts” and “goal impacts”). Nurmi did see favourable usage in terms of both zone starts and played with decent teammates — TPS finished second in the regular season and made it to the semi-finals in the playoffs — but some of that is to be expected for a rookie. After all, only 30 U20 skaters saw 20+ games of action in the Liiga this year.
If I just had one play to showcase Nurmi’s growth this year, it’s this one. On the ice as a rookie in a playoff game that’s tied with a minute to go, and making a smart chip play to get the puck into space after tracking the puck well in the defensive zone. A well-earned assist if you ask me!
Markus Nurmi made a great play to chip the puck up to Teemu Vayrynen who buried the winner for #HCTPS with less than a minute to go 🍎— Sens Prospects (@SensProspects) March 22, 2018
TPS was down 5-3 in 3rd and came back to win 6-5 in game #2 of their second round #Liiga playoff series 🇫🇮 pic.twitter.com/ueE53Mc99z
Nurmi was also impressive for a disappointing Finland squad at the World Juniors this past year. Lined up alongside Bruins prospect Joona Koppanen and Juha Jääskä on Finland’s fourth line, the trio was tasked with playing a defensively responsible, hard-on-the-forecheck kind of game at even-strength while receiving minutes on the penalty kill. Nurmi ended up producing points too, with three points and nine shots in five games. Although Drake Batherson stole the show, you could argue that after the preliminary round, Nurmi was the Sens prospect who was having the best tournament. Competitive play on a hard forecheck, decent hands in tight — Nurmi’s skills were on display and caught the eye of scouts and Sens GM Pierre Dorion:
“Markus showed some good things throughout the tournament. He’s a hard-working kid, he can make plays with a bit of room, he can drive to the net, he’s a big body. He’s someone that we hope, a couple years down the road, can get over to North America to play.”
Where Nurmi could stand to improve from a statistical standpoint is his shot totals. His 86 shots ranked near the bottom of his team, and you can see on the heat map below that there’s a dearth of shots (indicated by the blue colouring) from the right-side in the offensive zone — where Nurmi could be expected to take them. Skill-wise, the knock on Nurmi since his draft day has always been his strength and his skating. Expect that to be Nurmi’s offseason focus after he’s done serving his mandatory time in the military (!!!!) for Finland.
Still a raw player who most continue to project as a bottom-six forward with value on the penalty kill, Nurmi is signed for another year with TPS. With a trusting coaching staff in place, expect Nurmi to expand his role in Finland next season before considering a move to North America; via @SensProspects, the Senators have until June 2020 to sign him.