Rookie? Not now. Not with 10 games left and every shift a cauldron filled with intensity, pressure, and physicality. No, if you’re playing big minutes this time of the season, as Blue Jackets forward Boone Jenner is, you’re not a rookie anymore. Maybe insofar as your official NHL status, but that’s it.
You could even make the case that Jenner hasn’t looked like a rookie for a long time, maybe ever. He came into the season playing a heavy, mature game and has evolved as an indispensible part of the Blue Jackets identity as a relentless forechecking team that is consistently difficult to face. He may, in fact, be the poster boy this season for that style of play. And the 20-year-old is very much enjoying his first season in the NHL, especially now, with so much riding on every game.
"This is crunch time," said Jenner. "We’re in the final stretch of the year, the final three-four weeks here, so there are important points to be had in every one of these games. From the beginning of the year, I think you can tell the intensity picks up for sure. Each game gets tighter and bigger and more important. It’s been good, it’s been fun, and we’ve got to just keep rolling.
"I think this time of year when critical points are on the line, when it’s so tight, that’s the best hockey, other than playoff hockey," he continued. "I like when the intensity ramps up, and I think everyone on our team does. We thrive on that, and in these remaining games, we have to bring that intensity every night and play the same way."
There may not be any player on the Blue Jackets roster who plays "the same way" more than Jenner. You don’t need to know he wears the No. 38 sweater to figure out who he is on the ice. Just keep an eye out for the player who pursues pucks relentlessly, skating around or through anybody in the way.
He gets under opponents’ skin playing that style, but he never retaliates when they take offense to the pounding he doles out on a nightly basis. His first inclination is always to skate away when an opposing player takes umbrage at a clean hit, often with a bemused look on his face, as if he’s surprised someone would react badly to a good hit. That type of composure is hard to find in a grizzled veteran, let alone a first-year player.
"You never want to put your team down with a stupid penalty," Jenner noted. "There’s really no worse feeling than taking a penalty like that and having the other team score on the power play. I don’t think that’s in my game. I don’t want to be someone you can goad into a penalty or anything like that. You’ve got to be smart and pick your times, for sure."
In the second half of the season, when the pressure has mounted continuously, Jenner has produced. He has eight goals since the midpoint, tied for second on the team with Artem Anisimov. He’s feeling good about his game as the season has gone along but says it’s all about trying to improve constantly.
"I feel obviously more comfortable and happier with my game, and I just want to keep getting better," he mentioned. "I don’t want to take anything for granted. I need to keep getting better to help this team be successful. I want to be a good forechecker, physical, hard to play against. I also want to keep getting better at controlling pucks, taking pucks to the net, using my size down low, getting to those high-traffic areas and burying more rebounds."
Did Jenner have any doubts coming into the season about his readiness to play at the NHL level?
"No, I didn’t," he replied quickly. "I think being in Springfield (AHL Springfield Falcons) last year gave me confidence throughout the summer. There was one goal in my mind during the summer, and that was to make the team, and I was hoping not to be denied. I believed I could play at this level, and I had to go out and prove it."
He’s doing just that, night after night, relentless shift after relentless shift, all the while playing veteran minutes and producing veteran results.