The Detroit Red Wings were one of the first teams to invest in European scouting, and as a result it allowed them to draft players in the later rounds that other teams didn’t know about. The Wings found players who were being undervalued and ignored because of their size. These players were skilled, but they were small and were therefore overlooked. However, as time went on other teams invested in European scouting as well and the playing field was evened as teams saw the dominance of the Wings in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Calle Jarnkrok is the classic Red Wings prospect: an undersized European forward with a ton of skill. He was drafted 51st overall in the 2010 draft out of the Swedish Elite League (SEL). Jarnkrok is 6’0″ 188 pounds, which makes him a little undersized for the NHL, however, his speed and hands could make him a real shifty player, making up for his lack of size.
Most players have two different kinds of speeds, their top speed with the puck and their top speed without the puck. This creates a problem of course, how can you move through the zones as a group, or on an odd man rush when your players can’t keep the same speed. Having the same speed with the puck as without the puck tells us a few different things. It tells us that he carries the puck with confidence. Few players have consistent puck speed and it is a great help as you look to carry the puck by defenders, or on give and go’s. It is as natural for him to have the puck as it is for him to not have it. This is a skill that Zetterberg has, and it is a great boone to his ability to lead the rush. Jarnkrok is a good, fast skater with consistent speed allowing him to lead the rush and be extremely effective in the transition game.
Often times a player gets evaluated based entirely upon how many goals and how many assists they put up, but this is a poor metric to use to evaluate Jarnkrok, his defensive game is extremely developed and it allows him to be a reliable player on the ice. Jarnkrok is a player who holds onto the puck for long periods of time. He has great ice vision and can protect the puck better than most. These skills enable him to be a great possession player. His appeal and promise as a prospect lie in the fact that he is just as dynamic defensively as he can be offensively. We aren’t talking Selke here, but we are talking about a player who plays 200 feet. He prevents goals about as well as any prospect in his stage of development.
Jarnkrok gets compared a lot to Henrik Zetterberg. They both have a high compete level, good work ethic, and a desire to lead their teams. Jarnkrok has quarterbacked the power play in the past and is plays in all situations. He has a lot of the intangibles that you look for in a prospect and looks to project rather well into the NHL. But he does need to continue to develop his offensive skills as he learns the North American game, and of course, like all prospects, he needs to get bigger and stronger, learning to use his size in the process. Let’s be clear here, nobody is Henrik Zetterberg. Anyone who says that Calle Jarnkrok is going to be the next Henrik Zetterberg is wrong. Jarnkrok very well may be a top line center and he may very well be a great player, but he will not Zetterberg. Even though his skill set closely matches Zetterberg’s he is not Zetterberg. No one but Henrik Zetterberg is Henrik Zetterberg.
Jarnkrok is currently playing in Grand Rapids and is in the process of adjusting to the North American game, a faster and more physical brand of hockey than its European counterpart. The puck, and subsequently, the play tends to go to the corners and the boards much more making physicality a bigger deal. The game is less about finesse and more about moving the puck quickly through the zones and creating open ice. Jarnkrok isn’t adjusting well to the increased offensive and transition speed, which is evidenced by his 27 points in 52 games.According to the coaches, he is a player who refuses to cheat on defense and feels that if he becomes offensively minded than he puts the team at risk for mistakes, which lead to the other team scoring goals. Blashill says that Jarnkrok is playing extremely good two-way hockey, he just struggles to transition from defense to offense quickly. Out of all the possible problems, this is not a bad one to have. He will figure this out with time.
When he was playing in the SEL last year, scouts were saying that he could skip the AHL all together and grab a roster spot with the Wings right out of camp. This of course didn’t happen and it has resulted in a lot of people cooling off on him. I don’t buy much into people saying his ceiling is lower now since “he can’t play the North American game.” Everything we have seen of Jarnkrok playing in North America is a victim of the small sample size bias. It is completely normal for players to take a while to adjust to the smaller rinks and the different style of hockey that is associated with it. Jarnkrok’s lack of production is not because he is being outclassed by the other team, he is just struggling to adapt to the offensive part of the game.
Jarnkrok has been good for a point per game in his last 13, he may have turned a corner here. Last year, Tomas Jurco struggled quite a bit at the beginning of the year, even being a healthy scratch, but as the year went on he became a huge contributor to the team and learned to play in the AHL. The same may be happening to Jarnkrok, when Nyquist got promoted to the NHL a lot of his offensive production went down,(no surprise there, a line of Nyquist, Jarnkrok, and Jurco seems hardly fair in the AHL) and Jarnkrok has struggled to produce any kind of consistent offense since. It is worth noting the following two things as well, Jarnkrok came from the SEL and Jurco came from Juniors so that makes their adjustments different. Jurco had to adjust to the increased speed and skill as Jarnkrok is adjusting to the smaller rinks and different play styles. Secondly, 12 of the 13 points Jarnkrok has put up have been assists. Jarnkrok does project as more of a playmaker than as a goal scorer but goals are more repeatable than assists generally.
Regardless, this is a positive sign and something that is worth monitoring going forward. With that being said, I think Jarnkrok will spend the remainder of this year and next year in Grand Rapids. The Wings are going to want him to be a difference maker when he plays and seeing as the Wings are so deep at center, (Dats/Z, Stephen Weiss, Riley Sheahan, Darren Helm, Joakim Andersson) he is going to have to be really good to earn a spot next year. But generally speaking, his ceiling is higher than any other center the Wings have.