Boqvist svonotes

SvoNotes is a (generally) weekly column by reporter Jeff Svoboda.

Adam Boqvist never saw it coming.

He was sitting on the bench Jan. 25 as the Blue Jackets tried to hold on to a third-period lead against Calgary, and the unluckiest player on the Jackets was chatting with defensive partner Zach Werenski when he found out just how unlucky he could be.

On the ice, Cole Sillinger intercepted a pass from Mikael Backlund, and when the Calgary captain tried to get the puck back, Sillinger quickly flipped it up the wall and out of the zone ... and on to the Blue Jackets bench.

There, Boqvist happened to be discussing things with Werenski when the puck crashed into his mouth with such force it rebounded all the way back onto the ice, immediately knocking Boqvist backwards – and the front three teeth out of the defenseman's mouth.

“I think I was smiling (at the time) because I have no cuts on my lips or anything,” Boqvist said recently with a smile. “I’m sure (Werenski and I) talked about something good.”

That smile looks a little bit different these days, with those teeth currently missing from Boqvist’s face. They'll eventually be replaced – he was fitted for fake teeth last week, with permanent replacements coming over the summer – while Boqvist has been a good sport about everything.

He said the video chats with family at home have become a bit humorous as they’ve gotten used to his new look, and Boqvist had to cut his slices of pizza with a knife and fork at the team’s Super Bowl party recently (he couldn’t even entertain eating chicken wings). He said he never liked his teeth, so he’s actually looking forward to getting new ones, and noted a lot of conversations of late have revolved around his gap-toothed smile.

“I think people recognize more that you’re a hockey player,” he said. “I don’t care too much. Obviously, I think my girlfriend would like me to have teeth, but they’ll be back in there pretty soon.”

In the meantime, the situation hasn’t appeared to affect his play, even if his chats with Werenski on the bench are a little more difficult at the moment.

“I actually didn’t feel it too much,” Boqvist said of rejoining the lineup after the All-Star break. “It was more in like warmups and stuff when I was thinking about it, but during the game, you’re not thinking about it. It’s just hard to talk. People are asking like, ‘One more time, what are you saying?’ and stuff like that. My English isn’t the best either, but yeah.”

The whole thing is just the latest example of the bad injury luck that has dogged Boqvist since he arrived in Columbus from Chicago in the Seth Jones trade in the summer of 2021. Between injuries and scratches, the 23-year-old has skated in only 121 of 217 games the Jackets have played since the trade, with maladies ranging from random – the puck to the face, a broken foot after a shot block – to otherwise unfortunate (a shoulder strain earlier this year).

The 23-year-old right-shot defenseman has been lauded for his offensive skills over the years, which is why he was the eighth overall pick in the 2018 draft. Before this season, he totaled 16 goals and 46 points in 98 games with the Blue Jackets, though this year’s production includes no goals and seven assists in 23 games.

At the end of the day, though, the offense will likely come. In the meantime, the pairing of Boqvist and Werenski quickly resulted in some success, as the two have meshed since being put together midway through the season.

“I just know that I can play at a higher level,” Boqvist said. “That’s what I’m working toward, and obviously it helps to play with Z. He’s a great D-man. I’ve never played against top lines before, but this year, I’m doing that. It shows that I’m doing something better, and I just want to keep building on that. The points haven’t come the way I wanted, but if I play the right way and play with confidence, I’m sure the points are going to come.”

If the biggest knock on Boqvist over the years has been his need to get better on the defensive side of the ice, the last few weeks have been an improvement. Listed at 6-0, 182 pounds, Boqvist will never be the big, physical presence of an Erik Gudbranson, but his puck-moving skills, skating and ability to gap up in the best of times allow him to get the team out of the defensive zone before opposing teams even set up shop.

Since being placed with Werenski, Boqvist has the opportunity to play top-pair minutes, which means he’s playing against the best offensive foes for the first time. So far, the results have been good; in 10 games since the first of the year, the Blue Jackets have 53.55 percent of the shot attempts and 51.36 percent of the expected goals with Boqvist on the ice.

“When you play against top lines, it gives you confidence to handle those guys,” Boqvist said. “Obviously they’re going to make plays because they’re so good, but I just want to be the best Adam I can be every day and compete every game, every shift. I’m sure the coaches have seen that I'm putting in the work. I’m just going to take steps every game here and see where it can take me.”

There are natural questions about whether two offensive-minded defensemen can work together, but so far Werenski has enjoyed the chance to play beside Boqvist as the two have formed a puck-moving pair.

“I think we can make plays, find each other, get the puck up the ice, make plays in the O-zone,” Werenski said. “It’s just knowing when you can be offensive and when you have to play defense. I think we’ve been doing that a good job of that so far, so it’s been fun playing with him.”

Werenski Gets on the Board

Speaking of Werenski, you could sense his relief from San Jose all the way to Columbus when he scored during the Jackets’ win on Saturday night.

Oct. 20 – when the defenseman scored an empty-net goal to clinch a win over Calgary – was the last time Werenski had lit the lamp, a span of 38 games that left one of the NHL’s top offensive blueliners confused as to where the magic in his stick had gone.

Perhaps the worst night was Feb. 10, the first game after the All-Star break, when Werenski had a number of chances that just didn’t go in. He had nine shot attempts in the game, five of them on goal, but couldn’t beat Andrei Vasilevskiy. At one point, the Tampa goalie was falling to his backside and still was able to use his glove to snare a shot by the obviously frustrated Werenski.

Postgame, Werenski – who led NHL defensemen with 20 tallies in 2019-20 – was asked if he felt snakebitten after 100 consecutive shots on goal didn’t go in.

“I think I’m past that point a little bit,” he replied. “I’m used to putting pucks in the net. I’ve done that my whole career. Right now, it’s just not going in. Just keep doing the things I’m doing. I’m getting chances. ... It is what it is. It’s the game of hockey. At some point, I hope they start falling for me.”

While pucks off his stick hadn’t been going in, Werenski was still plenty productive. Pucks off his stick that went to a teammate and then in haven’t been an issue, as his 29 assists are currently tied for 13th among NHL defensemen – and that’s with Werenski missing a month earlier this year with a leg injury.

And finally, he got to celebrate a goal Saturday night against the Sharks. He had time and space atop the right circle and a screen in front, and his shot flew past goalie Kaapo Kahkonen to end the goalless drought.

CBJ@SJS: Werenski scores goal against Kaapo Kahkonen

Teammate Sean Kuraly had predicted a goal, and it turns out Kuraly was right. For his part, Werenski said his streak had become “a hot topic” in the dressing room, but he was happy it was over.

“Obviously it’s been a while,” he told Bally Sports reporter Dave Maetzold during the first intermission. “I think I’ve been playing well lately, creating offense, but I just haven’t scored. So it felt good to get that one in.”

What a Week

One of the fun things I get to do on social media and in our game previews is look back at CBJ history. It’s always interesting to remember the lore that has made the Blue Jackets the Blue Jackets, whether it be memorable games, historic moments or pivotal decisions.

This felt like a particularly busy week, though, both in the present and the past. It was fun to look back 23 years at Jody Shelley’s first game with the Jackets on Feb. 17, 2001, when he skated just 1:33 of action and had two fights in his NHL debut. It’s also important to look back to Feb. 16, 2019, when Kole Sherwood showed how far Columbus hockey had come when he became the first Central Ohioan to play for the Blue Jackets in a regular-season game.

In the present, it feels like a lot of history was made this week as well. There was the announcement that Johnny Gaudreau will pick up where Patrik Laine left off and donate $1,000 to mental health resources for each point he scores the rest of the season, a good sign about the strength of the CBJ locker room.

There was also the major news that the team moved on from general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, who spent 11 years and two days on the job. You can look at Kekalainen’s tenure as glass half full – his teams made the playoffs five times and upset Tampa Bay in 2019, while losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champ three other times – or half empty (four straight seasons without playoff hockey, just one trip to the second round of the playoffs), but there’s no denying his love of Columbus and his impact on the franchise.

I’ve taken to comparing the current situation to making a meal – with seven first-round draft picks the last four years, Kekalainen has stocked the cupboard with groceries. There’s no doubt the potential is there, and the job of the next general manager will be to turn those groceries into a good meal. I’m not sure which part is harder, but at least you’re off to a good start for whoever follows in Kekalainen’s footsteps.

Then finally came the big news Saturday night – outdoor hockey is coming to Columbus. It feels like a long wait is over, but perhaps that will make next year’s Navy Federal Credit Union NHL Stadium Series™ game vs. Detroit that much sweeter.

As a graduate of Ohio State and someone who spent nearly a decade writing about Buckeye football, I’ve spent many a fall Saturday in the iconic venue. I’ve been lucky enough that my career writing about sports has taken me to some of the coolest venues in the world, but Ohio Stadium might be at the top of the list for its ability to combine historic architecture, great sightlines and a visitor experience that’s nearly unmatched.

Those autumn Saturdays are a rite of passage in Ohio, but as someone who has attended a couple of outdoor games previously, I think what’s going to happen next March will be even better. My prediction is the Stadium Series game will go down as one of the greatest spectacles not just in Columbus sports history but in the history of the NHL.

I’ll see you and 100,000 of our best friends there.

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