TORONTO – Jared Boll will never be an elite scorer like Rick Nash or win a Hart Trophy like Sergei Federov, but there are few players the Columbus Blue Jackets count on more.
Never mind that he’s only 21 years old and spent last season in the Ontario Hockey League.
“He terrorizes people,” Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said Tuesday morning. “There’s no other way to describe him. He’s a complete reckless player that knows exactly what he’s doing every shift.
“He has everyone’s attention every night.”
Boll was a key member of the Plymouth Whalers team that reached the Memorial Cup last season and has already established himself as an important player in Columbus.
Witness a recent three game stretch in which Boll sat out with bronchitis. After watching his team get blown out in two of those games, Hitchcock was so anxious to get the rugged winger back playing that he said Boll would dress in Toronto on Tuesday night as long as he could stand.
“He’s physical, he’s strong on the puck,” explained Hitchcock. “We miss him a lot when he’s not in the lineup.”
Boll is also unafraid to fight.
He entered Tuesday’s game tied with Anaheim Ducks enforcer George Parros in fighting majors at 19. It’s something that’s always been part of his game.
“I take a little pride in it,” said Boll. “I’ve always played hard and the fighting just seems to find me. It’s been like that my whole career in the ‘O’ and in juniors. It’s something I enjoy doing.”
The Blue Jackets selected Boll in the fourth round of the 2005 draft and many in the organization assumed that he’d spend this season with Syracuse of the American Hockey League.
However, Boll quickly distanced himself from the others competing for an NHL job during training camp and has spent the entire season in Columbus.
“I didn’t know what to expect going in but everyone’s goal is to make the team,” he said. “So I just put it in my head that I’d do anything to make the team and I’m glad it worked out like this.”
Hitchcock was impressed even before training camp started. Boll moved to Columbus at his own expense shortly after the end of the Memorial Cup and spent the summer training alongside some other Blue Jackets players at the team’s practice facility.
The veteran coach has rarely seen a junior player make that kind of decision and estimates that it accelerated Boll’s development by the equivalent of a season.
“He came to training camp and had a huge advantage on everybody,” said Hitchcock. “He had trained at a level that no graduating junior had trained at.
“It made a huge difference.”
Boll has clearly found a fan in his coach.
In addition to racking up 174 penalty minutes, he’s had five goals and seven points in 57 games while playing about 10 minutes per game. His emergence prompted the Jackets to part ways with long-time enforcer Jody Shelley, who was dealt to San Jose last month.
Hitchcock believes Boll could develop into a 20-goal and 40-point player who accumulates 300 penalty minutes in a season. There aren’t many who play the game like that anymore.
“He’s so tough,” said Hitchcock. “Nobody scares him – he doesn’t care if he wins or loses the fight. He just goes at it and shows up.
“He’s an absolute throwback to the way it used to be 20 years ago.”
Boll comes by it honestly. He always liked fighting and has never minded trying to improve his skills with a little practice.
“The best way to learn is the hard way – lose a lot,” he said with a laugh. “Guys in this league are a lot bigger and stronger. There’s some pretty tough guys out there so I’ve still got a lot to learn.”
His favourite fight of the season came against Aaron Downey of the Detroit Red Wings during a game back in November. It was a fairly even bout, but it stands out mostly in Boll’s mind because he felt it helped turn the tide in a game the Jackets went on to win 3-2 in a shootout.
It’s little wonder why he’s quickly become a valued member of the team.
“Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do,” said Boll.