Bags are packed, Blue Jackets Air is getting warmed up and the team is ready to head out for a five-day, three-game road trip through western Canada.
Prior to departing, the Blue Jackets held an hour-long practice at the OhioHealth Ice Haus with NCAA men's basketball tournament preparations underway at Nationwide Arena.
Todd Richards had a new face on the ice with the full group, that of Boone Jenner, who is on the verge of a return after a frustrating three-month recovery from a stress fracture in his back.
As recently as last week, Richards said he did not anticipate either Jenner or Jeremy Morin – both of whom are making the trip – getting back in the lineup prior to Saturday’s road trip finale in Calgary, but he liked what he saw from Jenner in his first skate back with the team. Morin also skated today, primarily on a practice line with Rene Bourque and Cam Atkinson.
Regardless of his return date, it’s a positive development when a key player like Jenner is back among the group at practice.
“It just gives everyone confidence,” Richards said. “You’re adding a good young player (coming back) into our lineup, a guy that’s important in our organization going forward and important in our locker room. You talk about guys that drive games and drive the team…as coaches, it’s about who drives practice, too. Sometimes it’s me yelling and barking and a lot of times you get the Dubinskys and Jenners and they’re the guys driving practice just by how they work.”
Jenner spent the majority of practice on left wing of a line with Ryan Johansen at center and Nick Foligno on the other wing. That alignment was not by design, but mostly because of the absences of Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov this morning.
Dubinsky was banged up coming out of Sunday’s game against Carolina and “there’s a question” of whether he can play Wednesday in Edmonton, Richards said. Anisimov experienced some soreness after that game and was given an extra day off, but both players are traveling with the team this afternoon.
Richards confirmed the recall of Ryan Craig yesterday was done because the Blue Jackets may need an extra forward, which is perhaps now even more important with Dubinsky and Anisimov in question for Wednesday’s game. He had high praise for Craig, a true professional who – by all accounts and from talking to assistant coach Brad Larsen, former coach of the Falcons – has had a profound impact on the Springfield organization, both on and off the ice.
On the goaltending front, Curtis McElhinney hasn’t started a game since Mar. 7 vs. Colorado, a game in which the Avalanche stormed to a 3-0 lead and made it a short outing (one period) for McElhinney. The plan is to get McElhinney a start in one of the upcoming back-to-back games, possibly tomorrow night at Rexall Place.