The Toronto Maple Leafs continued their offseason shopping on Friday by adding Swedish forward Calle Järnkrok on a four-year contract worth a cap hit of $2.1 million AAV.
Järnkrok, who will turn 31 in September, is a player coming off an odd season: pretty solid results in Seattle were undercut by an ice-cold tenure in Calgary after being moved at the trade deadline.
Drafted 51st overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Red Wings, Järnkrok was dealt before he ever appeared in the NHL in a deal at the 2014 trade deadline with Nashville for David Legwand. He debuted for the Predators shortly after the trade and spent the next nine seasons of his NHL career in the Music City.
In Nashville, Järnkrok was a remarkably consistent player after a slow rookie season in 2014-15. From 2016 to 2021, Järnkrok scored between 10 and 16 goals, 14 to 19 assists, and 26 to 35 points every season. He distinguished himself as a swiss-army knife player, capable of playing all three forward positions and playing anywhere that the Predators needed him in the lineup. Järnkrok spent time in the top six with more skilled players as well as further down in the lineup in defense and checking roles. Moreover, he was the type of player who could be deployed in all situations, notching at least one power-play goal and one shorthanded goal in every season from 2016 to 2021.
That said, the core of Järnkrok’s game is defense. He has graded out well analytically over the course of his career defensively, and in 2020-21, he posted an elite defensive season according to several models. Järnkrok is a quick skater with solid speed and agility; the rest of his game is built off of that. At 5’11”, 186 lbs., Järnkrok is not a particularly big forward, but he manages to be an effective F1 presence on the forecheck through his skating and tenacity, keeping the feet moving and the pressure on.
If last year was an aberration, signing Calle Jarnkrok to a four-year deal at $2.1 million per is a very savvy move. If it was a sign of things to come for a player entering his 30's… well then there's a bit of risk here. pic.twitter.com/MDnsn7RQ8e
— dom (@domluszczyszyn) July 15, 2022
With the puck, Järnkrok is not the most creative or skilled and has rarely been an engine to drive a line offensively, but his career shooting percentage of 11.7% has allowed him to score over 100 goals in his career. The finishing talent and skating ability is the primary reason why Järnkrok has been able to play up in lineups over the course of his career and distinguish himself most comfortably as a third-liner who can produce depth scoring from time to time.
Over the course of his career in Nashville, Järnkrok went through different periods where he was a center more often and then a winger more often. He played center heavily during Nashville’s trip to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, scoring two goals and five assists during that playoff run, before moving more to the wing in 2020 and 2021. Those two seasons were two of Järnkrok’s three best in Nashville offensively; he scored at a 45-point pace across those two shortened seasons, which lends some credence to the argument that Järnkrok is at his best offensively when he is not playing center.
Another piece of evidence for that may be this past season. After the Seattle Kraken claimed him from the Predators in the expansion draft (memorable for Marshawn Lynch’s refusal to pronounce Järnkrok’s name), they used Järnkrok more often as a winger, with Järnkrok taking five faceoffs per game on average. The offensive numbers were good — Järnkrok scored at a 44-point 82-game pace over his 49 contests with the Kraken. He was then dealt to Calgary at the deadline, and the Flames used him as a center (often with Blake Coleman on his wing), with the number of faceoffs Järnkrok took per game jumping to 12 on average.
The result? His offense went crashing, with only eight points in 29 games between the regular season and playoffs, halving his point-per-game pace from Seattle. Some of that was atrocious shooting luck as Järnkrok scored one goal in those 29 games (2.6% shooting percentage), but the totality of the picture when you look at his career numbers is that there’s a decent relationship between the number of faceoffs Järnkrok takes and his point totals.
With a cap hit of $2.1M, Järnkrok will be making a very reasonable amount in Toronto. The term, four years, is a bit longer than you’d like for a player about to be 31, but that was likely the cost of keeping the cap hit lower on a team without much wiggle room like the Leafs. If Järnkrok bounces back to what he was in 2020-21, with elite defensive results and a 45-point pace, he will be more than worth the $2.1 M cap hit. If Järnkrok looks more like 2021-22 — more middling defensive results and slumping offense down the stretch — this is not a player who will look too appetizing to have in the lineup. Therein lies the risk.
The optimistic take is that Järnkrok was on a terrible team (the Kraken) who hampered the results of their players, something that the Leafs know well given how Mark Giordano’s analytical impacts skyrocketed the moment he got out of Seattle (and thus should be better in Toronto). Moreover, this take would argue that Järnkrok was misused in Calgary; he played too much at center and in a strict, regimented system under Darryl Sutter that he wasn’t able to adjust to in time for the playoffs. The pessimistic take is that Järnkrok’s lesser calibre of play in 2022 relative to 2021 was the result of the aging curve, something that will not be kinder to him as he plunges further into his 30s.
Another question now that Järnkrok is on board is how the Toronto Maple Leafs plan to use him. At first glance, one might assume that acquiring Järnkrok means that Alex Kerfoot’s days in Toronto are greatly numbered given that Järnkrok is also a penalty-killing swiss-army knife player who can play all over the lineup. That may be true, but it may also be the case that Järnkrok is Toronto’s plan to replace Ilya Mikheyev, and they intend to slide Järnkrok onto the third line with David Kämpf and Pierre Engvall.
Ondrej Kaše, signed with Carolina, is another player whose shoes Järnkrok could be filling. I also couldn’t help but note some similarities between Järnkrok and Colin Blackwell; Blackwell was known for his ability to play up in the lineup during his time in New York, in addition to penalty-killing acumen.
There are many different ways that the Leafs could opt to use Järnkrok in 2022-23, and that’s the advantage of signing a player with his versatility and experience. He could plug in on someone like John Tavares’ wing, he could center a bottom-six line, he could play on the wing of the checking line, he could play on PP2 or on PK1, and they got him on a very reasonable cap hit.
The Leafs now have just $756,884 in cap space per CapFriendly, with Rasmus Sandin and Pierre Engvall to sign. Bumping another player to the AHL — be it Joey Anderson or Kyle Clifford — frees up a bit more money, but right now it is not possible for the team to sign both of their RFAs.
In other words, more moves are likely on the way. Stay tuned.
Calle Järnkrok Scouting Report
Courtesy of McKeen’s Hockey Yearbook
Aggressive, skilled and intelligent forward, fully capable in all three zones .. undersized but urgent, with quickness in pace… quick, darting skater with excellent lateral agility and speed… hops awkwardly in startup and crossovers… full stride is long and smooth however – backed by effective footwork… skilled and comfortable in traffic… shifty puckcarrier, proactive shooter – quick wristshot features a strong release – drives at defenders feet… can over-fixate on firing shots at times… excels as an F1 forechecking torpedo – driven by tenacity and a non-stop engine… feet remain activated, and powers through checks… wins a lot of puck duels over bigger foes .. feisty, goes to hard areas, sticks his nose in scrums and dirty areas… mature defensively, aware and dedicated to system structure… stays behind the puck, supports pinching mates.
Calle Järnkrok Statistics