By Kyle Kujawa –
It’s hard to blame Calle Jarnkrok for being a little overwhelmed. After arriving in Grand Rapids on the night of March 25, he grabbed a few hours of sleep and woke up to join his new team, the Griffins, for practice.
He was swarmed with autograph requests as soon as he stepped off the ice of the Griffins’ practice facility, did an on-camera interview for local television, then went back to Van Andel Arena to participate in a team workout. That evening, he packed a few bags and prepared to join the Griffins’ on a two-week road trip, their longest of the season.
Despite the busy first few days, Jarnkrok knows that this opportunity can only benefit him.
“It feels great to be here,” he said. “I’m very excited. It seems like a good bunch of guys on the team.”
Jarnkrok is unanimously considered one of the Detroit Red Wings’ top prospects, right up there with Gustav Nyquist, Brendan Smith and Tomas Tatar, depending on which lists you’re looking at. Signed by Detroit last summer, he spent the year in the Swedish Elite League, but is finishing the season in the AHL to get a taste of North American hockey and give the powers-that-be a chance to weigh in on his future.
“We haven’t talked about it so much yet,” said Jarnkrok. “We will see what happens. Maybe I will be in Sweden, or Detroit, or here. I’m not sure.”
Having played at the professional level regularly in Sweden for four seasons, there’s talk that Jarnkrok could be ready to jump directly to the NHL next year. But high numbers don’t always translate across the pond, which is why the Red Wings chose to evaluate him in the AHL to determine the best route.
With the possibility of losing several forwards, like Nyquist, Tatar and Joakim Andersson, permanently to the NHL next season, the Griffins could use another player to slot into a skill role. But Sweden is always an option for Jarnkrok as well, where he’s played for Brynas IF, the team he grew up rooting for.
“It feels great to be able to play for my home town,” said Jarnkrok, a native of Gavle, Sweden. “It’s very good to have an important role on the team and be a guy who scores goals and makes points.”
Jarnkrok explained that playing for Brynas was a dream come true. Growing up in Sweden, many young hockey players follow the NHL, but don’t always get to watch much of the action due to the time difference. Jarnkrok grew up wanting to play for Brynas, only altering his plan once he realized he had a chance to play in the NHL.
“From the beginning I dreamed of playing in the Elite League,” he said. “When I got older, I dreamed of going to the next level and playing with the best. It’s been a dream of both.”
Being selected by the Red Wings 51st overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft was a crucial step in reaching his dream. He grew up idolizing Henrik Zetterberg, and watched the Red Wings rely on Swedish players like Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom and Niklas Kronwall while winning multiple Stanley Cups.
“I talked to some teams,” he said. “But I had no idea which team was going to pick me. It’s been great being with Detroit. I was so happy.”
Although the Red Wings have continued to stockpile Swedish talent, Jarnkrok, who knows English but hasn’t had to speak it very regularly, arrived in Grand Rapids finding only one other Swede, as his countrymen Nyquist and Andersson were up with Detroit. Luckily, it was a close friend from back home.
“I know [Adam Almquist] from playing with the junior national teams,” said Jarnkrok, who played with his new teammate on the Swedish under-18 team from 2008-10. “I met some of the other guys in a few summer camps, but I don’t know them well.”
Local fans will only have a few chances to see Jarnkrok live this season. He’ll help the Griffins close out a road trip and begin their final homestand of the season, giving him three games in Grand Rapids from April 10-13. But he’ll also have a chance to shine on the international stage, as he’s being considered for a spot on the national team for the upcoming IIHF World Championship, held in Finland in Sweden from May 3-19.
“I don’t know if I’m going to make the team,” said Jarnkrok, noting that it depends on which players will be available after the NHL and AHL regular seasons end. “But I have to be home by April 15.”
Jarnkrok was pointless in his first three games in North America, but didn’t look out of place on a skilled line with Tomas Jurco and Landon Ferraro. He didn’t feel out of place off the ice, either, even though he only spent a few hours in Grand Rapids before leaving for the road trip.
“It feels around the same size [as Gavle], I think,” he said. “I just don’t know many people who live here, but it feels like the same kind of town.”
And whether he does end up in the NHL, AHL or SEL next season, it’s clear that he’ll make an impact. He finished eighth in Sweden’s top league in scoring this season, setting a personal best with 42 points. However, it was a disappointment compared to last season, when he finished 14th overall in scoring but helped Brynas capture the SEL championship. He hopes to do the same thing in North America in the not-so-distant future.
“It was a great feeling, especially doing it for my hometown,” said Jarnkrok. “The whole city was watching, it was great. It was a dream come true.”