What should the Leafs do when Calle Jarnkrok returns?

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
7 days ago
Calle Jarnkrok was quite easily one of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ consistent players this season prior to a series of injuries that forced him to miss 30 games.
Jarnkrok most recently suffered a hand injury against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 14 and has been out of the lineup since. He previously broke his knuckle during a January 26 practice, which led to a six-week absence. It’s been a tough few months for Jarnkrok but he was an essential part of the Maple Leafs’ roster due to his two-way versatility and ability to play virtually anywhere in the lineup. By my contention, he also had the fewest number of bad games aside from Auston Matthews and William Nylander prior to his January ailment.
Toronto’s optimal playoff lineup certainly includes Jarnkrok, but finding out where he fits is more complicated. We may have to figure this out through the process of elimination but first, it’s worth examining the line data.
Jarnkrok played with Max Domi and Nick Robertson as his most-common linemates and it was Toronto’s third-most used group at 5-on-5 this season via Natural Stat Trick. There’s just one easy problem: Domi has been essential to Toronto’s top line, emerging as one of the league’s best playmakers since mid-February and there’s no way the Maple Leafs are getting rid of the Tyler Bertuzzi-Auston Matthews-Domi combination barring complete disaster or further injuries through the opening two games.
Sportsnet’s Justin Bourne made a compelling case as to why Jarnkrok should be placed alongside John Tavares and Mitch Marner, on what would be Toronto’s nominal second line. Bourne argues that the Maple Leafs’ core four stars — Matthews, Marner, Tavares and William Nylander — should be split across three lines, with Nylander capable of dominating against Boston’s bottom-six forwards. Jarnkrok-Tavares-Marner only played 58 seconds together at 5-on-5 last year, so we have to go back to the 2022-23 season to see if there’s any evidence to support this conclusion — Bourne’s argument is more than sound, we just want to see some data!
Jarnkrok’s most common linemates were indeed Tavares and Marner last season, the trio was Toronto’s third-most used group and they posted nine goals, eight against with a 54 percent share of the expected goals in 174:25 at 5-on-5 last year via Natural Stat Trick. That’s not bad! It allows Jarnkrok to get into the top-six with two stars, where his role is simplified: retrieve pucks, provide additional puck support for Tavares defensively and get his shot off when the defence collapses on Marner.
Bobby McMann has elevated his game by several fathoms since notching a hat-trick against the St. Louis Blues on February 13. The 26-year-old suffered a lower-body injury against the Detroit Red Wings on April 13 and missed the final two games of the regular season. McMann and Jarnkrok could potentially return to the lineup for Game 1 and if so — and of course, Sheldon Keefe may disagree — McMann has lapped Jarnkrok in the lineup as a scorer while finding chemistry with Tavares and Marner in a five-game sample.
Keeping all of this in mind, while knowing that Bertuzzi-Matthews-Domi is unassailable, here’s what I think the Maple Leafs’ forward lines should look like with Jarnkrok and McMann back in the lineup:
Tyler Bertuzzi-Auston Matthews-Max Domi
Bobby McMann-John Tavares-Mitch Marner
Calle Jarnkrok-Pontus Holmberg-William Nylander 
Matthew Knies-David Kampf-Ryan Reaves 
Nick Robertson
Extras: Connor Dewar, Noah Gregor 
This was a pretty tough call, but here’s what factored in: Knies has played on the fourth line throughout April and he can be slotted in on any of Toronto’s four lines if needed. Robertson has shown the ability to constantly score when in the lineup but his turnovers drive Keefe crazy and he’ll operate as a 13th forward who can slot in when the team needs some extra juice. Jarnkrok will get to play with Pontus Holmberg (who quietly sports the best expected goals against per 60 at 5-on-5 on the Maple Leafs) and Nylander. You get some defensive stability from Holmberg and Nylander, game-breaking scoring from Nylander, and a jack of all trades in Jarnkrok, who is effectively playing a similar role to Ondrej Palat from the back-to-back Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning teams.
Jarnkrok can be slotted anywhere and never complains. He is a genuine, consistent asset for the Maple Leafs. Figuring out his optimal place in the lineup is a fun exercise for us. For Sheldon Keefe and his staff, it could potentially tip the scales of an even matchup between two Atlantic heavyweights.

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