Predators Need to Give Jarnkrok More Ice Time

When the Nashville Predators signed Calle Jarnkrok to a six-year deal in 2016, many questioned why a middle-sixer with limited upside deserved that kind of security. He was coming off of his second full season, and had hit 30 points for the first time. Typically, six-year contracts were reserved for players that were at least top-10 players on a team. However, general manager David Poile has a history of locking up young players with term early, and having it pay off in spades.

Nashville Predators Calle Jarnkrok Vancouver Canucks Jay Beagle
Nashville Predators winger Calle Jarnkrok and Vancouver Canucks center Jay Beagle (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

To this point, Jarnkrok’s extension hasn’t been a bargain to the same level as Roman Josi’s from 2013, but he has shown flashes that the whole package is there. The recent culmination of that was Jarnkrok being named the NHL’s first star of the week for March 14 to 21.

Jarnkrok Is Putting up Career Numbers

In Jarnkrok’s junior days in the SEL, he was putting up excellent scoring numbers for such a young player. He played his first full AHL season in 2013-14 with the Grand Rapids Griffins, scoring at a 0.6 points per game pace, which is very respectable for a rookie. Nowadays, with over 450 career games coming into the 2020-21 season, it seems as though Jarnkrok has shown where his ceiling is. He has twice finished in the mid-30s, but both seasons he was actually pacing for over 40 points and was held back by injuries. Worthwhile at a $2 million cap hit, but not someone that really has been pushing to be considered for top-line deployment.

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This year, Jarnkrok would be on pace for 50 points in a normal 82-game slate. In part, it’s due to him heating up in the last two weeks, and that hinges on two main factors. The first factor is some unsustainable shooting luck, but the second is that he is finally getting a real shot in the top-six. Jarnkrok started the season playing near the bottom of the lineup, mostly with Rocco Grimaldi and Brad Richardson. However, of late his most common line mates have been Mikhael Granlund and Ryan Johansen; that’s quite an upgrade. The numbers have followed the upward trend in ice-time, and overall, Jarnkrok has really taken a big step forward this year.

Nashville Predators Calle Jarnkrok Dallas Stars Tyler Seguin
Nashville Predators winger Calle Jarnkrok (right) has seen his production increase in the top-six with Ryan Johansen (left) – (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Jarnkrok’s ice time has only ever been over 16 minutes per game once, and that was back in 2015-16 when he took his biggest step forward. In each of the five years since then, he has seen an average of 15 minutes per game, with some penalty kill time and a limited dose of power-play exposure. In games this year where Jarnkrok gets more than 16 minutes of ice time per game, his production jumps drastically from 0.43 points per game, up to 0.75. He has only recorded a point in 3 of those 14 games where he hasn’t played 16 minutes or more. The Predators are only ahead of the Detroit Red Wings in their own division for goals per game, and they need more scoring both now and in the future. There’s a ready-made scoring winger in-house, and he just needs a little more ice time.

The Acquisition of Jarnkrok

Back in 2014, Calle Jarnkrok was a rookie in the Detroit Red Wings system, but as a 22-year-old on a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, he wasn’t going to get into the lineup anytime soon to be able to properly develop. David Poile saw his potential, and ensured that he was part of the return for David Legwand in the deadline deal. After the trade, Jarnkrok was given a chance in the Nashville lineup, and showed very well in his limited opportunity with 9 points in 12 games to finish out the campaign.

David Legwand Predators
Longtime Predator David Legwand was with the team from 1998 until he was traded in 2014 (Icon SMI)

The other two pieces of the Legwand trade were Patrick Eaves, and a second-round pick that the Predators ended up trading down from to select Jack Dougherty and Anthony Richard. Both players are still in the AHL, though only Richard’s rights are still owned by the Predators. With Jarnkrok now being the only notable piece remaining from trading an inaugural franchise cornerstone, the incentive is there to push Jarnkrok a little further into the spotlight.

Future Outlook

Any look ahead past this season has to take into account the Seattle Expansion Draft. The Predators look primed to trade Mattias Ekholm, and then likely lose a forward in the expansion draft. Whether or not that forward is Jarnkrok, the now 29-year-old will be looking at an opportunity to hold down a top-six spot all season. With that kind of deployment, he should be able to build on the success he has seen this year. Offensively, if he is given more scoring-focused deployment (and his penalty kill minutes are also limited), then he could be in line to take another real step forward.

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Even if the scoring doesn’t greatly increase, Jarnkrok has also shown this year that he can be a force at both ends of the ice, and getting some increased deployment next year just in time for a free-agency payday is perfect timing for the Swedish winger. Without a lot left to play for this year, the Predators would be best served by giving Jarnkrok some extra ice time now in order to see whether he can be a real top-line player moving forward.

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