On Wednesday the Detroit Red Wings announced their 2nd of an expected 3 signings this week (having signed Teemu Pulkkinen on Tuesday), inking Swedish forward and 2010 2nd round draft pick Calle Jarnkrok to a 3-year entry-level deal.
Jarnkrok posted career best numbers this season with Brynas IF of the Elitserien, recording 16 goals and 39 points in 50 games. The 20-year-old center added another 16 points in 16 games during the playoffs, leading his team to its’ first Le Mat Trophy since 1999.
The outstanding effort earned him a spot on Sweden’s World Championship team earlier this month, and his play there continued to impress. While he only recorded 1 point in 8 games, he finished 2nd on the team in faceoff percentage with 67% and earned rave reviews for his mature play and inherent ‘hockey sense.’
Perhaps the biggest complement of them all came following the tournament when Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill offered up this comparison to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press:
“Calle is a lot like Z [Henrik Zetterberg] in that he’s very tenacious. He’s always on the puck, has real good hockey sense. He wins all the puck battles.”
They’re sentiments he echoed Wednesday to Ansar Khan of MLive:
“He has great hockey sense, very tenacious, a lot of Zetterberg-type qualities. He’s strong on the puck, never gives up on the puck.”
Tenacity and hockey sense aren’t the only things Jarnkrok has in common with Zetterberg, with both Hockey’s Future and Elite Prospects listing the youngster as an excellent puckhandler and good skater.
“Jarnkrok’s most obvious positive is his very good puck control, as he shows an ability to hang on for extended periods of time. He projects as a playmaker, as he is more apt to setting up plays than finishing them. Jarnkrok also boasts high-end skating ability and he possesses a great deal of hockey sense.”
“A very skilled center that will get the job done on the wing as well. Järnkrok’s main asset is his outstanding hockey sense, which allows him to be the great playmaker that he is. Overall a very smart player with good positioning in all zones. Also quite shifty with soft hands and impressive puckhandling skills. Not a physical player, but plays pretty well through heavy traffic although in need of gaining strength and muscles. Good character. Often used as pointman on the man advantage, but can still improve his release. Is a good skater, but there is still some room for improvement in that department.”
With so many glaring comparisons to one of the Red Wings’ best forwards it’s easy to see why the team (Jim Nill) is so excited about Jarnkrok’s future.
“He’s a good young player and one of our top prospects. He’s close to the NHL already.”
How close he is to being NHL ready is an intriguing question. He impressed while playing with NHL talent at the World Championships, can he come to training camp this fall and impress the team enough to make the NHL roster?
He may not even be given the chance, as Brynas must first grant him the opportunity to attend. If they feel there’s any chance he makes the Red Wings NHL roster, they’re not likely to allow him to go.
If he is given the chance to join the Red Wings in Traverse City this fall Jarnkrok will still face considerable obstacles (namely a deep pool of talent) to making the team, and if he fails to make the Red Wings roster he’ll have to head back to Sweden thanks to some wonky rules that render him ineligible to play for the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2012-13.
There’s little question as to whether or not Jarnkrok can play and think at an NHL level. As Kukla’s Korner’s George Malik points out, those aren’t the biggest concerns at all.
“The main concern for Jarnkrok is really gaining muscle mass, core strength and stamina. He can more than keep up with the pace of NHL hockey.”
The notion seems to lend itself to the idea that there’s a chance, however slim it may be, that Jarnkrok could join the Red Wings without spending time in the AHL. No Red Wing has made that direct jump since fellow Swede Johan Franzen did it in 2005. It’s not an easy thing to do in Detroit’s system, and the fact that the topic will even be debated is a testament to the amount of skill Jarnkrok possesses.
Will it be this year? Next? The following? Time will only tell, when Jarkrok joins the Wings, but he shows all the signs of developing into a sensational talent who will play in the NHL for a long time to come.