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Boone Jenner will play center in Sunday's preseason opener

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Boone Jenner scored 45 goals in his final season with the Oshawa Generals, and he did so playing center.

But he came to Blue Jackets Training Camp a year ago determined to make the team, and after a summer of investment in Columbus, Jenner made it happen with an excellent showing. Todd Richards wasn’t about to send Jenner back to Springfield just so he could get pro experience under his belt playing center — Jenner made the team better as a winger, and so, he stuck around.

Sixteen regular-season goals and an impact playoff performance later, Jenner was one of the NHL’s most talked-about rookies down the stretch and many are wondering what’s in store for him in year No. 2.

Well, to start, he will return to his natural center position on Sunday night when the Blue Jackets open their home preseason schedule against the St. Louis Blues. Asked if Jenner’s move to the middle was a product of Ryan Johansen’s absence, Richards said that has something to do with it but not everything.

Richards said he’s looking forward to seeing what a competitive, aggressive player like Jenner will bring to the face-off circle.

“If Johansen’s here, we may have (Jenner) on the wing but we’d still be trying him at center,” Richards said. “You take a player like that, a fierce competitor…I haven’t seen him take a draw yet, but I bet he takes a draw like he plays a game. You better be ready.”

The Blue Jackets have only skated twice (in two separate groups) but Jenner saw some reps at center during Saturday's practice. They worked 5-on-4 and 5-on-5 in a slightly-tweaked Richards system that calls for more puck support from the forwards, asking them to swing lower into the zone and help the defense.

Richards doesn’t expect the transition to be too difficult for Jenner but he wants to see more before drawing a conclusion.

“It’s tough in practice,” he said. “We have conversations after practice about who you like and didn't like, and sometimes as a coach when you’re running practice you miss a lot of the individuals. You’re watching drills, making sure you’re doing it right and little details rather than watching one particular person.”

No one in Blue Jackets management or on the coaching staff has lost sight of where Jenner’s long-term future resides; most everyone agrees he is best fit as a center and the consensus was that Jenner would eventually find his way to the middle of the ice.

Last season was a terrific start for the 21-year-old and he may very well end up on the wing again this season, but he’s going to get a chance to play his natural position right out of the chute.

“It’s something that with Boone and where he came from, being a successful center (in junior), that was one position we were thinking…that eventually when he gets to the NHL, he’s going to be a center,” Richards said. “He came in and impressed (last year), and it was tough to take a really good player and put him in Springfield just so he could play center. He turned out to be a really valuable player on the wing.

“It gives us great flexibility that we can take a really good young player and now try him in the middle.”

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