Columbus Blue Jackets forward Boone Jenner checks Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo during the second period at Nationwide Arena.
Russell LaBounty/Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sport
No matter what the draft status, most NHL rookies are looking to prove one thing to themselves and to management when they enter the league: That they belong. For Blue Jackets rookie Boone Jenner, he’s been through those weeks, and those games, hoping to establish his NHL readiness.
"I think everyone wants to prove himself, and that’s what I wanted to do coming in, play my game and show what I can bring to the NHL level and this team," said Jenner. "Being here now, my goal is changing; now I want to be more of an impact player."
What Jenner has proven is that he’s a high-energy player, a big body who can be extremely tough to handle on the forecheck and tough to beat when he’s defending. His motor is always going, and his persistence is always evident.
Recently, because of the myriad injuries the Blue Jackets have sustained up front, Jenner was asked to move from wing to center, a position he played in the OHL but not a position easy to handle for a young NHL player. Jenner took it in stride.
"Yeah, I felt pretty comfortable. Obviously, I used to play that position a lot my whole junior career," he noted. "Going from wing to center at the NHL level is a little bit of a change, but it all came back to me pretty quick, and I felt comfortable."
While Jenner’s game is still evolving in his young NHL career, one thing that was NHL-ready for the Ontario native, even before he played his first game at this level, is his size. He’s carrying over 200 pounds on his 6’2 frame, and he’s learning to use that size more and more productively each game.
"I think I can use my size to my advantage," Jenner said. "Lately I think I’ve been doing a better job of protecting pucks and driving to the net. I think I can use my body more that way and obviously keep being physical on guys defensively."
As physical a presence as Jenner has been over the first half of the season, he’s been very disciplined. The former second-round pick had accumulated only 24 penalty minutes in 33 games played (he missed several games with a lower body injury earlier this season) heading into Friday’s game against Carolina. He plays with an edge, but he’s learning how to use that edge within the framework of the rules. It’s all part of the growing process, from juniors to the NHL.
"Yeah, I think I’ve grown a lot, and I’ve learned a lot, too," he explained. "The first few months have gone by pretty quick, and I’m just trying to keep getting better and more comfortable with every game. I know I can play in this league now; I’ve proven it to myself. Now I want to contribute more to the team and bring whatever I can bring."
And as he continues to gain valuable NHL experience, Jenner is beginning to get a clearer notion of what he needs to do nightly to contribute as much as he can to the Blue Jackets and help the team make a strong second-half playoff push.
"Hopefully I can bring my energy level, tenacity, and compete level every night, every shift, wherever I am in the lineup — center or wing – try to bring that," Jenner mentioned. "And obviously, contribute offensively if I can get a big goal in a big game and focus on making the right plays at the right time."