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.

Jackets preparing for life without Johansen


With neither side ready to budge in the contract negotiations for restricted free agent center Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards is making plans to start without his top center.

Johansen had a career year in 2013-14 scoring 33 goals and 63 points in 82 games as the team’s top center.

However, without him under contract, Richards plans to move his centers up a line.

“We want him in the lineup,” Richards told the Columbus Dispatch. “But we’ll move on without him if he’s not in the lineup. It’s like an injured player. If he’s not there, he’s not. You have to move on. You don’t have a choice.”

Ideally, the Jackets depth chart at center would begin with Johansen followed by Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Mark Letestu – not a bad looking group.

In his blog, Aaron Portzline suggests that without Johansen, Dubinsky, Anisimov and Letestu could all move up a line without being asked to do too much.

The team also believes 21-year-old Boone Jenner could move from the wing to his natural center ice position.

“Boone is an obvious choice to move, if it comes to that,” Richards said. “His flexibility is a real asset.”

If Johansen isn’t in the mix to start the season, prospect Alexander Wennberg’s chances of making the team also go up.

Wennberg, the team’s first-round pick (14th overall) in 2013, scored 16 goals and 21 points in 50 games with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League in 2013-14.

“I’m bigger and stronger, one whole year of growth,” said Wennberg. “It would be a great opportunity for me, yes.”

Going in to the season without Johansen isn’t ideal, but Richards is making plans for that scenario and he has options.

Related: Looking to make the leap: Alexander Wennberg

Murray, Tyutin likely back for Columbus in Game 5

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The Columbus Blue Jackets’ defense is going to get a big lift for Game 5.

According to coach Todd Richards, defensemen Ryan Murray and Fedor Tyutin will return to the lineup. Tyutin has missed the past two games and Murray missed Game 4.

Preventing the Penguins from scoring has been a bit of an issue for the Blue Jackets as they’ve allowed 14 goals in four games. The Penguins and Blue Jackets have traded off 4-3 final scores in every game of the series which means both teams feel like they’ve got some work to do on the back end.

Without Tyutin and Murray in Game 4, the Blue Jackets went with Nick Schultz and Dalton Prout. To say they’re getting an upgrade in Game 5 is putting it politely.

Blue Jackets coach likes team’s confidence in postseason


Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards knew his team didn’t have much experience headed into the playoffs. With the number of young guys on the team and transplants from elsewhere, there was a question as to whether or not facing the Pittsburgh Penguins might cause them to be intimidated.

As Terry Koshan of QMI Agency shares, Richards feels his questions about his team have been put to rest with how they’ve responded through two games and a tied series with the Penguins.

“There was not any defining moment that it hit me that our young guys were ready,” Richards said on Sunday. “There were (regularly) moments in their games where they showed me and the rest of the coaching staff that they were ready for this. There was a little bit of a question coming into the playoffs about whether we were ready, and I think the guys have answered that.”

Those young guys Richards refers to are forwards Ryan Johansen, Boone Jenner, and Cam Atkinson along with defenseman Ryan Murray among others.

The Jackets won Game 2 in overtime when Matt Calvert, another young guy, scored his second goal of the game and sent the series to Columbus all even. With production and fearlessness like that, big things can happen.

PHT Morning Skate: Bouncing back from comebacks Game 2 theme

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Three Game 2s get underway today including a matinee special in St. Louis between the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. The theme of the day for a pair of teams might be how to hold down a lead.

The Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild each had leads in Game 1 only to see their home-standing opponents storm back to win in overtime. The in-between game of the day features the Columbus Blue Jackets hoping to annoy the Pittsburgh Penguins into losing and giving Columbus the franchise’s first playoff win. The Jackets held a 3-1 lead of their own in Game 1 before losing 4-3 and they’d like their collective inexperience not bite them again.

Game 2: St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks [St. Louis leads series 1-0] (3:00 p.m. ET — NBC LiveStream)

The Blackhawks thought they broke through and got into Ryan Miller’s head in Game 1. Getting a 3-2 lead after one period will create a comfort zone. Then the Blues realized it’s the playoffs and that means having to defend and they did just that for the next 80+ minutes shutting down the ‘Hawks.

The Blues would like to keep doing what they did through the rest of Game 1 into Game 2. The problem there: They know the Blackhawks will make adjustments and thus goes the chess match between Joel Quenneville and Ken Hitchcock. Patrick Kane had a nice return to action in Game 1 and Jonathan Toews would no doubt like to pot a goal of his own to match.

The Blues had to like the resolve they showed and the offense they got from guys who helped them all season late in the game. Jaden Schwartz and Alex Steen coming up when they were needed most was the exact kind of lift they needed. Game 2 could deliver another instant classic.

Game 2: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets [Pittsburgh leads series 1-0] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN LiveStream)

The Blue Jackets did a lot of things the team liked in Game 1. Brandon Dubinsky pestered Sidney Crosby all game long and the Jackets at one point held a two-goal lead in the second period. If Columbus is going to earn their first ever playoff win, they have to not take penalties.

Matt Niskanen was the burr in the side of the Blue Jackets in Game 1. When you spend time worrying about where Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang are on the man-advantage, people are going to get open and Niskanen seized the day.

If there’s a guy the Jackets have to get involved in Game 2 it’s Ryan Johansen. After a breakout season, there’s no hiding a 30-goal guy in the playoffs which means it’ s up to both coach Todd Richards and Johansen himself to find ways to get free of the Pittsburgh defense.

Game 2: Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild [Colorado leads series 1-0] (9:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN LiveStream)

The Wild looked for a while in Game 1 like they were in charge. Giving the Avalanche an opportunity to play to their strengths and open things up a bit was a recipe for a comeback. Wild coach Mike Yeo had parts to a successful game plan going on Thursday night but not the total package.

If the Wild can take solace out of anything in Game 1, it’s that they can hang with the Avs offensively. Charlie Coyle and Ryan Suter showed a deft touch, but they’ll need more from Zach Parise and Jason Pominville if they want to work the Avs more.

Colorado, on the other hand, got a brilliant game out of their “old man” Paul Stastny and steady as he goes work from Semyon Varlamov. The Avs showed how dangerous they can be and that’s what coach Patrick Roy likes to see. Now if they can keep the Wild from getting the jump on them, they’ll be all set.