If there's one thing Jared Boll needs to learn about the NHL, it's to avoid being on the wrong end of the tale of the tape. Take the Jackets recent home game against the San Jose Sharks. Boll was wreaking his typical brand of havoc throughout the night when he eventually came face-to-face with Sharks' defenseman Doug Murray, all 6'3" and 240 pounds of him. A little earlier in the game, Murray had jumped into a scrum and wrapped up Rick Nash, apparently a no-no in Boll's book.
Despite Murray's obvious size advantage, the kid had no problem whatsoever engaging in a spirited scrap. Afraid is one thing Boll is not.
"If you play scared to get hurt that's when you will get hurt," he said only hours earlier following his game-day skate. "I've always played reckless on the ice.
"As soon as I come to the rink, I know my job and I enjoy doing it."
Fearlessness has been one of Boll's most obvious traits in what has become a very visible rookie season for the banger from Crystal Lake, Illinois. Since opening night, when he logged just under four minutes of ice in his NHL debut, Boll has continued to make a name for himself throughout the league with a combination of relentless fore checking and huge hits, with no shortage of on-ice chatter mixed in.
"He's really our energy guy," says head coach Ken Hitchcock, adding that Boll and linemates Manny Malhotra and Andrew Murray have been a terrific unit for the team of late.
"After 20 or 30 games, you get off the rookie thing. For a younger player, he shows great composure, which is nice to see. He's a very intense individual, he's very focused. Every day, he's showing better composure."
At 21 and just a shade over 200 pounds, Boll seems to be an unlikely candidate when discussing the game's most effective enforcers. But that's precisely what he is. He was featured in a recent Sports Illustrated article where hockey writer Michael Farber identified the young Jacket forward as a part of a new breed in the NHL, the tough, youthful player that can do much more than just drop the gloves when the bell rings.
When he's not taking on guys that outweigh him by 20, 30 or 40 pounds, Boll is making sure he has an impact while the scoreboard clock is still ticking. His speed allows him to pursue the opposition in their own end, which in many cases results in a turnover. When Boll does have possession, his strength makes him almost impossible to knock off the puck. He's even shown the ability to find the back of the net. Maybe not all that frequently but the ones he does score are big – of his five goals this season, three have been game winners, tying Michael Peca for third on the team in the department, behind only the sniper tandem of Nash and Nikolai Zherdev.
"I just bring energy to the team," Boll says of the role he sees for himself in Columbus. "Obviously, you've got to be able play now to be in the league and stay in the league. You can't just go out there and run around. You've got to be able to contribute in other ways. I focus on that, too. I want to be able to score and on the other hand, I want to play physical and play my game, too. You have to make sure you're doing everything you can to help the team win and not just focus on one thing."
Regarding the physical stuff, Boll says he's learning more about the process and getting a better understanding of when to pick his spots. The last thing he wants to do is put the team down a man for no good reason so he's learned to read the game, and as Hitchcock suggests, show composure when necessary. Boll's gotten some help in that department and credits his teammates for the lessons, including some of the recently departed veterans like Jody Shelley.
Since Shelley left for San Jose, Boll has certainly felt some added responsibility when it comes to policing.
"Obviously having Jody on your team, you felt like you could do anything out there," he says. "He would come to your aid. You want to make sure the skill guys are comfortable out there and knowing that you've got their back and if something does happen, you'll be right in there to stick up for them.
"We've got a lot of guys on the team that can do that."
Boll, who strangely enough says he's completely laid back off of the ice, has been sticking up for teammates for a lot of years already. He believes one of the reasons he's made the transition to doing it at this level is the fact that he chose to play in the Ontario Hockey League rather than attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he had originally committed.
After two seasons in the USHL, he played two years with the Plymouth Whalers, honing a game that mixed offensive production (28 goals and 27 assists in 66 games last year) and physicality (403 total penalty minutes in the two years combined).
Boll proved he could contribute in the post-season, as well, scoring six goals and chipping in four assists in 20 playoff games as the OHL champion Whalers made a run in the prestigious Memorial Cup, Canada's national junior championship tournament. The experience north of the border, he says, prepared him well for his first season as an NHLer.
"After thinking about it, I just felt like the OHL was more like the way I played," says Boll. "I had a better chance to play my full game. In the O, you play a lot more games then in college. It's more like the pro life where you worry about hockey and that's it."
That game has made many in NHL circles take notice this year. The rookie forward has an obvious appreciation for the opportunity he's been presented with this season, one that in all fairness, he's literally earned with blood and sweat.
"It's been a great year so far and we're still right there for a playoff spot." Boll says. "For me personally, it's been an unbelievable year. First, just making the team and then being able to stay here and prove myself.
"It's been a great learning experience."