Jarnkrok already turning heads in brief time with Predators

Calle Jarnkrok, the 22-year-old acquisition before the NHL trade deadline (Red Wings), has quickly found a linemate ally in Craig Smith (right), the Predators' leading goal scorer.

Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz’s initial impression of Calle Jarnkrok is a positive one.

In two games, Jarnkrok, the center whom the Predators received at the trade deadline in exchange for David Legwand, previously their longest-tenured player, has a point each time (two assists total).

For the Predators’ offensively challenged corps of forwards, that amounts to a bonanza. Jarnkrok also went plus-2 in his NHL debut on March 21 (win over Calgary) and plus-1 on March 23 (win over Chicago).

Trotz called Jarnkrok a "very intelligent player" and "detailed defensively."

"Makes good plays offensively, has confidence," Trotz said. "He plays a very mature game. I like his game in a lot of areas. He produces, he always works to get in proper position offensively and defensively. Very detailed game, and he’s got a very good compete level above all that."

Gabriel Landeskog shares Trotz’s assessment. Landeskog, the Colorado Avalanche captain and a member of Sweden’s silver medal-winning Olympic team, played with Jarnkrok on an Under-18 World Championships team and on last year’s World Championships team that won gold.

"Very skilled," Landeskog said of Jarnkrok. "Great with the puck. Certainly, a good player in the middle of the ice and open ice and finding those passes in open areas. He’s a skilled player on the power play, as well. Certainly, an offensively gifted player. He’s fun to watch out there. I think he’s going to be a good player."

Predators general manager David Poile would like the team’s forwards to have a different look; and by that, he essentially meant he wants them to score more. (Nashville ranks 26th in goals per game at 2.39.)

If Jarnkrok, 22, can continue on his promising start and become the creative center the Predators have long lacked, the trade could become a windfall for an organization that needs more blue-chip youngsters.

With the Predators essentially needing a miracle to make the playoffs, Trotz has made a few lineup changes that are telling. For starters, Jarnkrok is playing with the club’s top goal scorer, Craig Smith. Essentially, Jarnkrok has gone from the American Hockey League to Nashville’s top line.

"I felt the way he plays and the way Smitty plays would be a good compliment so I stuck him in there," Trotz said. "So far, so good. They’ve been playing pretty well together, so I don’t mind that combination."

The other member of that line is Gabriel Bourque, who had gone through an unbearably long goal-less streak (from Dec. 23-March 15). Jarnkrok set up Bourque for a goal on Sunday. (Bourque had ended his goal-less drought with a marker five days earlier, before Jarnkrok was called up.)

While Trotz plans on shifting the Predators’ lines around a bit, one thing is evident: The young players are definitely getting an extended look.

That’s also true of Colton Sissons, who was called up on March 10. On a four-game road trip that recently ended, Trotz praised Sissons at times. To make room for the two youngsters, center Matt Cullen moved to the wing, supporting a line with Mike Fisher and Patric Hornqvist.

Another change was noticeable during the Predators’ morning skate on Tuesday. Colin Wilson did not work with either of the top-two power play units. After the club traded Legwand, Trotz put Wilson in Legwand’s power-play spot.

But Wilson has not produced. After a brief outburst on a recent road trip when he had three assists in two games, he has failed to record a point in his past six. Wilson still has not scored since Dec. 30.

On Tuesday, Wilson was centering gritty winger Eric Nystrom and Nick Spaling on Nashville’s third line.

While Jarnkrok has made a positive first impression, he needs to be better in certain areas, particularly faceoffs. He won 41 percent (7 of 17) in his NHL debut before losing 85 percent of face-offs in his next game (going 2 for 13).

But he is excited to be in Nashville after getting somewhat buried in Detroit’s system during this, his first season in North America. He knows some of the Predators’ Swedish players and was a teammate of Mattias Ekholm in Sweden.

"(The familiar faces are) a big help for me," Jarnkrok said.

Asked if Trotz had a message for him, he said it was "just keep going" and "keep working hard."

He also might have added, "Keep up the good work."