Boone Jenner is playing heavy minutes as a defensive center for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season. Is it working out?
This was supposed to be positive. It really was.
Boone Jenner has been playing more minutes than he has since his second season in the league this year. Despite this increase in minutes (18:04 this season per game as the team goes into the All Star Break, Jenner has posted just eight goals and nine assists this season. Those heavy minutes should ideally lead to bigger numbers, but that is not the role Jenner is being asked to play this season.
Instead, Jenner is being counted on as the defensive stalwart of the third line - the line Tortorella likes to use to close games out late in third periods.
Has that worked out this season?
(all stats via NaturalStatTrick)
Among players on the team with more than 200 minutes on ice this season, Boone Jenner has been on the ice for 27 goals against in 5v5 situations within one goal, the second most on the team (only Seth Jones, with 31, has been on the ice for more). Jenner has the third worst Corsi For percentage in those situation, at 45.45% (only Riley Nash and Scott Harrington have been worse). His xGF% in one goal games at even strength is also third worst on the team, 47.05% (ahead of only Markus Nutivaara and Scott Harrington). Those are not shutdown numbers. But part of that may be his usage. Jenner has the second most defensive zone starts of any skater at even strength in one goal games with 117. Only David Savard has seen more defensive starts.
When the team is up a goal and seeing a game out at even strength, these numbers are more stark. Up a goal, Jenner has been on the ice for eight goals against (only Alexandre Texier and Gustav Nyquist are worse). His xGF% is 27.27%, ahead of Texier, Nyquist, Ryan Murray, and Cam Atkinson. He has seen 31 defensive zone starts in these situations but the numbers do not show that he has been the defensive stalwart the team has counted on. Jenner is the only center who can win half of his faceoffs this year (currently at 53.9% on the season), but that is not a reason to continue to deploy Jenner in this role.
Jenner has the second most time on the penalty kill this season (behind Seth Jones) and the team has allowed just six goals during his 103:19 on the ice thus far. This speaks well to Jenner’s defensive acumen, so perhaps he is being misused or overused at even strength.
I intended this article to speak well of Jenner’s defensive play this season, but the numbers at even strength were legitimately surprising. They flat-out suck. His penalty kill bonafides are right there and Jenner deserves plaudits for them. But his even strength numbers are bad, and he is not producing the offense to make up for them.
Jenner is currently averaging the most ice time per night of any non-defenseman/goaltender on the roster. He is averaging 23 seconds more per night than Pierre-Luc Dubois (the “number one center,” at least by talent by a country mile), 90 seconds more per night than Alexander Wennberg (who has somehow outdone Jenner’s points production right now, though having two centers with a combined 37 points is probably bad), and Jenner is averaging a whopping 7 minutes more than Riley Nash (a better defensive forward per every metric listed above, at least according to NaturalStatTrick).
Jenner has played the second most minutes of any forward at 5v5 in one goal games this season (567, nine fewer than PLD). Jenner has the third-worst GA/60 (ahead of only Dean Kukan and Sonny Milano) and the absolute worst xGA/60 on the team. Jenner is also allowing the most HDCA/60 (high danger chances against per 60 minutes) and has the lowest SCF% (scoring chances for percentage) on the roster. Jenner is 6th in SF/60 on the team, and dead last in allowing shots per 60 minutes.
(The following charts via HockeyViz)
Jenner has played his best hockey this season when paired with Gustav Nyquist and Oliver Bjorkstrand, two of the best forwards on the roster this season.
Jenner has faced slightly-above average competition, but nothing to warrant his abhorrent defensive numbers.
Then there’s this.
Long story short, there is no excuse for Jenner to be playing the minutes he is.
Jenner is listed in lineups as a third line center. That’s the role he should be playing. 14-15 minutes per night, penalty kill minutes, defensive zone responsibilities. Nothing, either in fancy stats or regular stats, bears out that Jenner should be leading all Blue Jackets forwards in average ice time per night this season.
This was meant to be positive. Instead, it just raises questions about his currently-outsized role.