COLUMBUS, Ohio – It should have been one of the best nights of the 2021-22 season for the Blue Jackets.
They were outplayed by the Minnesota Wild in that March 11 game, but kept pulling away until Zach Werenski scored a late goal to force overtime on March 11. The game was surprisingly intense, especially after veteran winger Jakub Voracek was sent off with an injury and a low jumper by Minnesota’s Marcus Folino.
Rookie Yegor Chinkov’s goal in the 3-2 win sent the National Arena into a frenzy.
The post-game dressing room was just as emotional, but not all were positive.
Blue Jackets captain Boon Jenner pulled coach Brad Larsen aside for a tearful conversation on his way to a career high. Jenner has been working through a back injury, but it has gotten to the point where he can’t play.
“It was really hard,” Jenner said. “It was getting to a point where I didn’t think I could go as hard as I wanted to. It was tough, obviously, because you want to be outside.
The Athletics: #CBJ’s top three scorers in minutes – Boney Jenner, Jakub Voracek and Patrick Laine – all went down late in Friday’s win with injuries. The news may have gotten worse on Sunday, but Jenner will be missing for several weeks. A big blow. pic.twitter.com/N5wmkoo029
— Aaron Aportzline (@Aportzline) March 13, 2022
“It was a big win that night, a pretty emotional game. But knowing it was creeping up on me and not feeling good… I just had to make a decision at that moment. He drank too much.”
Larson was mysteriously defeated after that game. A few days later, he fought back tears when he revealed Jenner’s condition to the media.
Jenner did not play again the rest of the season. Jenner said he might be able to suit up for the final week or the regular season if the Blue Jackets were in playoff contention. But there was no such race.
Since Jenner’s departure, Blue Jackets fans have wondered about Jenner’s status. Back injuries are very difficult. Will he be ready for training camp? Is this a chronic injury that can heal again?
Well, if there’s one thing Jenner doesn’t like more than his injuries, it’s talking about them, but he was polite (as always) and a little more forthcoming than usual during his chat with The Athletic late last week.
Labor Day is on the calendar when most NHL players pack up their bags and head south for the season. Jenner, like the rest of the Blue Jackets, is expected to be back in town later this week to begin volunteer hits before training camp.
When asked about his back specifically, Jenner said, “I’m feeling good, I’m ready to go, absolutely.”
“I started training again this summer, trying to get to 100 percent. After the year was over, the idea was just to get healthy and take it from there. I’ve been doing that all summer, skating and working out. I’m happy where I am now.”
Last season was at least the third time in his career that Jenner missed with a back injury. He missed the final 23 games of the season. In the year He missed 40 games in 2015 with back pain. He missed seven games in 2017.
Jenner said all three back injuries were separate, which can be considered good news. It’s not the same injury that gets worse. This is a player that has made a living in corners and high traffic areas.
“They all look different,” Jenner said. But I don’t want to go into that too much. It happened.
“It’s all part of it. It comes with the trade. Things are about to happen. Like anything, you try to heal it, make it stronger, and try to get it back.
The Blue Jackets leaned heavily on Jenner last season, perhaps too heavily. His 20:27 average ice time was a career high — up two and a half minutes per game from last season — and ranked 15th among forwards in the NHL.
Yes, Jenner averaged more playing time than Florida’s Alexander Barkov (20:18), Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (19:58), Boston’s Brad Marchand (19:15) or the New York Rangers’ Artemi Panarin (19:13).
That’s how valuable he was to the Blue Jackets, not just in his production (23-21-44 in 59 games) but his ability to play center, win faceoffs, provide physicality and play both special teams positions.
Jenner, 29, sees no reason to call back, but Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen indicated during the exhibition that the plan is to manage Jenner’s daily workload. Growing confidence in Cole Silinger and Jack Roslovich as centers could ease the pressure on Jenner.
“If anybody’s ready, it’s Boone because he’s done everything right,” Kekalain said. “You know he put in the work over the summer to get ready. But when you go out on the ice to grind (Camp) … we manage the load differently than others.
“You can feel good in the weight room, but when you get into the grind, that can be completely different.”
The Blue Jackets signed NHL veteran James Neal to a player tryout contract for training camp and could sign another long-dent player to PTO in the coming days, Kekalainen said. Neal may take a long time to get a contract, but his availability allows the Jackets to meet the NHL’s requirements in the preseason while giving their veterans a rest.
But Jenner seems to be looking forward to it. He still believes he needs to play big minutes, and the stakes are much higher.
He intends to get a long look between the Blue Jackets’ top two offensive talents, free agent signee Johnny Gaudreau and returning sharpshooter Patrick Laine. Whoever ends up in that position — Jenner, Silinger or Roslovic — is poised to play heavy minutes and see a big increase in their offensive production.
“We see what’s shaking,” Jenner said. “We have good centers. We are all ready to go to camp and put in our work.
“You’ve got two good players there (in Gaudreau and Laine). We have some good players in our lineup now, but with Johnny’s ability, Pucky’s and Patty’s scoring… we’ll see what happens.
(Bonne Jenner Photo: Jean-Yves Ahern / USA Today)