While the story of preseason so far has been all of the new additions to the Columbus roster, the star of the show tonight was the longest tenured Blue Jacket: Boone Jenner. He scored two goals tonight, one showing an unexpected flash of skill and the other being a vintage gritty Boone goal in front of the net.
In the first period, Jenner opened scoring by intercepting a pass at center ice and driving it to the net all by himself. A backhand shot found its way past Joel Hofer.
His second goal came in the third period, after the Jackets had ended the second by surrendering a goal in the final minute, narrowing the lead to two goals.
This goal came on the power play, and from my seat on Patrik Laine’s side, I yelled at him for passing up on what I thought was an ideal chance for a one time slapshot from the circle. Instead, he waited a beat and made a cross-ice pass to Jake Voracek. Voracek then immediately passed to Jenner in the crease, where he bullied the puck into the net.
If this is a sign of what to expect from the Columbus power play this season, then we’re in for a lot less Sturm und Drang during the man advantage. We’re used to lots of passing, but in this case the passes covered all parts of the zone — not just the outer edge. The passes were quick and it tested the defense until the high danger chance presented itself. The unit on ice for that goal is one we can expect to see in the regular season.
It wasn’t just a night for the stars, but also for the role players. Dean Kukan, who is battling for a spot on the third pair, doubled the lead early in the second with a long range bomb.
With all the talk about the new rookies, it’s easy to overlook players like Liam Foudy and Emil Bemstrom, who are both still young and have less than two full years of professional experience. This play was the second example of Bemstrom getting a takeaway, then setting up Foudy. The first was saved, but this one succeeded.
Bemstrom in particular stood out to me tonight. He has definitely gotten stronger, and unlike in his rookie season, now he can actually win battles. He still has the skills with the puck to pass and shoot like he always has. He’s not a star but he can be a source of depth scoring while also being responsible away from the puck in a bottom six role.
The final goal to seal the victory was an empty netter from Gregory Hofmann, an NHL rookie but at nearly 29 years old already a seasoned pro. I’m not sure what to make of Hofmann and fellow old rookie Justin Danforth. In multiple preseason games this week they have showed that they belong in the NHL. Where do they fit in Columbus? Is it worth playing them over a younger player who may grow into something more?
Speaking of rookies, I was excited to get my first in-person look at Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov. Neither ended up on the scoresheet, but they did not disappoint. What was a pleasant surprise about Chinakhov is that he was able to make some plays away from the puck. He had an active stick which broke up some zone entries on his own blue line.
Side note: overall the Jackets had active sticks all night. They weren’t trying to bowl guys over, but instead they forced loose pucks, and pounced on the pucks to reverse the direction of the play. The Jackets recorded 15 takeaways tonight.
As for Sillinger, he continues to look NHL-ready. Despite being just 18 years old, he’s already strong enough to handle the physical side of the game...and he’s not afraid of playing a physical game. He also has a powerful shot, and can carry the puck through traffic. He played with Laine and Voracek tonight and they didn’t score at 5v5 but it’s not hard to see how they could once they get some more chemistry with each other.
Daniil Tarasov started in goal and played the first two periods, allowing just one goal on 23 shots against. The first period was a cake walk, but he had to do a lot more work in the second and he made some nice saves. He’s a big goalie (6’5”) and he has calm, fluid movement.
My final observation is about Adam Boqvist. He has superb puck-handling skills, and while he’s not a Savard-type shutdown defenseman, I noticed some plays where he effectively challenged the puck-carrier. He just used his stick and his positioning more than brute force.
The arena experience
This was my first time at Nationwide Arena since late February 2020. I’m used to a smaller audience and less energy for a preseason game, but it was even smaller and less energetic this time. Was it due to the Campeones Cup soccer game happening down the street? Was it COVID concerns? A combination of all of these factors?
I was pleased that people mostly complied with the mask mandate. No one was walking around the corridors with a bare face. Some people in their seats used the presence of a drink in their hand or food in their lap to have their mask off, but at least in this circumstance there was distance between groups of fans.
The Blue Jackets get a couple of days off from competition before hitting the road to play at Detroit on Saturday and at Buffalo on Monday. Expect roster cuts to begin as soon as Thursday as some players are returned to their junior clubs and others go north to Cleveland for the start of the Monsters’ training camp. There are still many questions to be answered about who makes the final NHL roster, and who plays on what line.