If there was ever a "knock" on Boone Jenner, some say he could become a more explosive skater. One summer changed that perception.
While his intangibles have always been off the charts and his competitive edge likely unparalleled among his peers, Jenner went into the last offseason looking to become a bit quicker and powerful in his skates, and he's started to see dividends.
The hope was that he could use the added speed to be better on the forecheck and take advantage of mistakes -- and that killer instinct is a big reason why he's the leading goal scorer in the Ontario Hockey League. Jenner, 19, is having his most productive offensive season to date, with 27 goals and 47 points in 32 games for the Oshawa Generals.
Next up is the World Junior Hockey Championship in Ufa, Russia, and it's likely Jenner will be playing an even larger role for Canada than he did a year ago. At last year's tournament, Jenner was mostly a bottom-six guy who killed penalties and saw some occasional ice time on the power play; but with a distinct increase in goal-scoring this year, it will be tough for head coach Steve Spott to leave Jenner out of offensive situations.
"You've seen him do it in junior this year for his Oshawa club," Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson told BlueJackets.com last week. "He's scoring some goals, and he's a real mature player for his age group. He can be a key face-off guy for them, and maybe play a defensive role as a center man."
Strength at center ice is a Team Canada hallmark, so it's no surprise they were thrilled to learn the Edmonton Oilers were loaning Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the World Junior. He's a game-changer and one of the brightest young playmakers in the game, giving Spott a legitimate No. 1 center at the top of his lineup card.
In a recent interview with Hockey Canada's website, Spott said one of their goals in selecting the team was to have a strong group of players at center who can skate well.
“When I interviewed for this job, that was one of the questions they asked me,” Spott said. “That was my first answer. ‘I want to be a team that can skate.’
“When we get over there against the U.S., obviously the Russians and the Swedes, the Finns, these teams can absolutely fly. We have to be able to keep up and compete. Speed was key.”
In referring to "over there," Spott is talking about Russia, where the tournament will be played on the larger ice surface. For a coach, that means skating and hockey skills are at a premium since the game is a bit less physical than in North America.
With other talented centers like Jenner, Ryan Strome and Philip Danault on this year's squad, Spott thinks he has a balanced group that will allow Canada to play a fast, versatile game against all types of opponents.