Jenner at center begins Sunday

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With restricted free agent Ryan Johansen now receiving offers from KHL clubs, the Columbus Blue Jackets are moving on as if they won’t have their top center to start the season.

Without Johansen, Jackets’ head coach Todd Richards has a few options on how to fill the void, which includes moving Boone Jenner from the wing to the middle.

Jenner, 21, is a natural center but, because of the the depth the team had in the middle, was forced to transition to the wing in his rookie season.

On Sunday, when the Blue Jackets open their preseason schedule with split squad games against Carolina and St. Louis, Jenner will center a line against the Blues.

“If Johansen’s here, we may have (Jenner) on the wing but we’d still be trying him at center,” Richards told the team’s website. “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.”

Jenner scored 45 goals and 82 points in 54 games as a center during his final season in the Ontario Hockey League with the Oshawa Generals.

With the depth at center, the 6-foot-2, 204 pound Ontario native spent last season on the wing where he scored 16 goals and 29 points during his first season in the NHL.

“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.”

Jenner certainly won’t replace Johansen in the short term, but as negotiations between the team and its’ top center continue, seeing how Jenner handles the transition will certainly be a nice distraction for Jackets fans during preseason action.