With the final cuts yesterday the opening night roster is set, and Boone Jenner will start his first full professional season on the Jackets' top line.
I remember the 2011 draft well- with the Jackets trading their first round pick to the Flyers for a
whiny quitter Jeff Carter, my focus was on what they'd do with their second rounder. NHL Network streamed the second day of the draft, and the cameras were on the Columbus table when they were on the clock to make their first selection, 37th overall. The table was all smiles, with palpable levels of elation as Boone fell into their laps.
Boone has spent the last four seasons with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League, serving as the team's captain since 2011. He's always been a dependable two-way center, but last year saw his offensive numbers take off, with his 82 points leading the Gens. In addition to his success with Oshawa, he was also a member of Team Canada at the past two World Junior Championships.
He's had cups of coffee with the Springfield Falcons at the conclusion of his past two junior seasons, looking especially comfortable last season with the Birds- scoring a combined nine points in thirteen regular season and playoff games.
Though his time in the AHL was very brief, Boone came to camp this year looking for a job with the Jackets, but with so many returning forwards he was in-tough to win a job in the starting twelve. There was talk prior to camp that he had a chance to steal a job, but did any of us think he would start the season in the enviable position of top line left wing, opposite of Marian Gaborik?
Not bloody likely.
But that's where he is, starting the season on the team's undisputed number one scoring line. Along with center Brandon Dubinsky, the trio was assembled midway through the exhibition season, and they've been money since. Boone had a nice line in five preseason games:
Starting the year on the top line is as plum a situation for a rookie you'll ever see. He'll have opportunities for proxy offense riding shotgun to the Jackets' top sniper. Boone is already a trustworthy and hard-working player without the puck, and pairing him with offensive players right off the bat will do nothing to hurt the development of the offensive side of his game.
There is a question of how long this will last, however.
Will he be able to endure the opposition's top checking units?
When Nathan Horton returns from injury, will Boone be forced out of the top six?
Will the fact that he's on his entry-level contract, and therefore waiver-exempt, mean that he's on a short leash?
As long as he's contributing with and without the puck, he'll remain on a scoring line. He's a very smart player who doesn't shy away from the rough stuff, so facing tough checking is something he can overcome. Given the fact that he's playing left wing and that he's a natural pivot should mean that when Horton returns his job is safe, again, providing he's still contributing. The fact that he's on his ELC though, could be working against him.
If he struggles, or if the lineup needs a shakeup, the ability to send Boone to Springfield with no risk of losing him to waivers would be the easy move for the front office and coaching staff. It makes a hell of a lot more sense to send him to the AHL if he's not playing legitimate minutes with Columbus. Simply put, if he's contributing with the Jackets, he'll be in a good situation, likely still on the top line. If he hits the rookie wall, don't bury him on the fourth line or in the press box-send him to the Falcons to get big minutes.
He's fast-tracked himself to the show, and we should all enjoy the ride while he's an NHL first-liner. He's already become a fan favorite, with the cries of "Boooooooone" from the fans when he scores a goal, even if its during a scrimmage. I'm not here to say that I think he isn't long for the AHL, rather I want people to know that what we're seeing from Boone is an unexpected bonus, and it would not be a disappointment at all if Boone needs more seasoning in the AHL.
I have a feeling that most of this post may be rendered moot, when Boone cements himself as a front-line player for the Jackets.