Calle Jarnkrok and the burden of the Maple Leafs “team defence”

Photo credit:(Photo from Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff)
Jon Steitzer
7 months ago
The past six months have seen the departure of Alex Kerfoot and Pierre Engvall. I’m not sure how universally missed they are throughout Leafsland, but I’m willing to bet one person misses them, Calle Jarnkrok. With the departure of two of the Leafs defensive forwards, the burden of the Leafs going to a complete run and gun mentality falls on Calle Jarnkrok. They certainly have the talent to trade chances with most of their opponents, but when they might actually need a forward to help dig the puck out of their own zone, Jarnkrok is going to be a player the Leafs rely on.
I think it is safe to say by the first day of camp line combinations the Leafs have thrown Jarnkrok straight into the deep end. It seemed likely that Jarnkrok would either be helping out Domi or Nylander as they took on the role of centre, but having the two of them on the same line confirms the fact that Calle will be the low forward in the defensive zone as the Leafs frantically try to get Domi off the ice and find a way of getting Nylander the puck so he can move it out of the zone.
Of course, there is an oversimplification to saying that Jarnkrok is the be-all-end-all of the Leafs defensive forwards. With the Leafs keeping the Matthews and Marner pairing together they truly see that line as one they can send over the boards in all situations. Players like Knies and Lafferty will also add some defensive responsibility to the top nine forward group, and while David Kampf is the fourth line centre I wouldn’t expect his icetime to mirror that of a typical fourth line player. He will be used situationally as defensive situations call for it.
The Leafs also have their depth that will help fill in some of those blanks for them. Pontus Holmberg is a player that seems to be starting from the outside looking in when it comes to the Leafs roster given that he’s playing on what looks like a very good AHL first line to open camp but if his effort mirrors last season he’ll make it hard to cut him and he’ll be another option.
Dylan Gambrell certainly wasn’t brought in for his offence and like Holmberg he’s probably eyeing that spot on Kampf’s line that is currently occupied by Noah Gregor. Throw in a player like Bobby McMann that will be fighting hard to make a case for an NHL job once he returns and Jarnkrok starts looking a little less lonely in his defensive forward role. It’s just that he still looks like he’ll have his hands full given his day one linemates.
Last season Jarnkrok inherited the Kerfoot “Swiss Army Knife” moniker as he seemed to find a home and thrive on each of the Leafs four lines last season, not necessarily making each line the best they could be, but mitigating any decline from injuries or slumps that were felt by him stepping in as a replacement. It’s because of that role we shouldn’t expect him to be a lock to spend the entire year with Domi or Nylander. A bold statement given how often we see changes in any lineup, but one that especially rings true for a player who is likely to be the first one called upon to fill in the most significant roster gaps.
Right now the biggest roster gap seems to be defensive responsibility for Domi and Nylander and that’s why he’s there. I would expect to see this group stay together for much of the preseason as the last thing Sheldon Keefe likely wants to do while William Nylander is being brought up to speed on the centre position is give him numerous linemates to cycle through, but beyond this initial experiment Jarnkrok could find himself on absolutely any line and that’s a big part of his value to the Leafs.

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