Tonight, Blue Jackets rookies Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray make their NHL debuts against the Calgary Flames at Nationwide Arena. This is notable for them, personally, and for those who follow the team and care about the franchise. Jenner and Murray represent something.
They are bridges to the past and harbingers of the future.
Jenner was the Jackets’ second-round pick in 2011. His draft date was two weeks after then-general manager Scott Howson fired amateur scouting director Don Boyd — whose staff had mined Matt Calvert, Cam Atkinson and Dalton Prout out of the late rounds of previous drafts.
Jenner was an important pick, in part because he was the Jackets’ top pick that year. Their first-round pick had been packaged with Jake Voracek in the trade for Jeff Carter. Fans have waited for Jenner to come through the pipeline.
Murray was a first-round pick, No. 2 overall, in 2012. He was the player the Jackets were going to take, even if they won the lottery, over Nail Yakupov. The Jackets had bad memories of Russians Nikolay Zherdev and Nikita Filatov.
Murray was an important pick. He is the second-highest draft pick the Jackets have claimed, after Rick Nash, who was No. 1 overall in 2002. He is Howson’s final legacy. He eventually will answer whether safer was better.
Jenner and Murray have been tucked away as the top scouts were purged, Carter came and went, Nash was traded, Howson was fired and the entire hockey operations department was turned over. Tonight, they emerge from the most unsettled eras in franchise history.
Murray will partner with James Wisniewski on the third defensive pair. Jenner will be playing left wing on the Jackets’ No. 1 line, with Brandon Dubinsky in the middle and Marian Gaborik on the right. Both rookies are 20 years old and they will be nervous, but probably not for long.
“I know when I was that age, I was all over the place,” Dubinsky said. “It took me a long time to get an even keel, and these guys have that down already. It’s pretty impressive.”
Murray missed most of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery and was a question mark heading into camp. His sublime skating ability combined with his cool head made him a fit with Wisniewski, who plays an edgier and more impulsive game. The rookie lends the calm.
“He is wise beyond his years,” Wisniewski said. “It is a pleasure to play with him.”
Jenner went from a possible bottom-six forward to the No. 1 line. He has been a strong body with a good set of wheels. What has been surprising is the ability to peel off the walls, process what is in front of him — and make plays, and score.
“This was my third camp,” Jenner said. “Obviously, it now goes to another level, but I like these challenges.”
A raft of Jenner’s extended family is driving down from Ossley, Ontario, to watch him tonight. A smaller band of Murrays is flying in from Regina, Saskatchewan.
“Remember when you’re at school,” Murray said, “and they’d ask, ‘What do you want to be? I’d say, ‘A hockey player.’ And they’d say, ‘No, really, what do you want to be?’ ”
Tonight, they are on television.
“It’s a huge jump from Canadian junior to the NHL for a 20-year-old,” coach Todd Richards said. “I always ask, ‘You’re good enough to get here — now, are you good enough to stay?’ That is the question. At game 20 to 25, when all the emotion and adrenaline is gone, are you still good enough?”
Judging by the way they have carried themselves, Murray and Jenner have anticipated this question. There is history, and there is future. They get it.
Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.