DETROIT – It’s been an eye-opening three weeks for Calle Järnkrok, one of the top prospects in the Red Wings’ system.
The Red Wings’ second-round draft pick in 2010, Järnkrok has been working out and playing with the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids. His trip to North America was made possible when his team back home was eliminated in the first-round of the Swedish Elite League playoffs last month.
“It was a little bit harder than I thought it would be,” said Järnkrok, of making the adjustment to the AHL. “I expected smaller ice and bigger players, so I expected it to be pretty tough for me. It was, but I think I figured it out and it’s getting better and better for each game.”
Järnkrok has three assists with a plus-2 rating in seven games with the Griffins. He’ll finish up his stay in Grand Rapids this weekend with games at Van Andel Arena against Milwaukee on Friday and Peoria on Saturday.
Järnkrok and the Red Wings' first-pick in 2011, Tomas Jurco, were at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday to meet with assistant general manager Jim Nill, as well as Red Wings’ trainers to map out off-season strength and conditioning programs that the prospects can work on at home.
“I have to work on everything, but I think I need to work on my strength to be bigger and put some muscle on,” Järnkrok said. “I think that’s the biggest thing for me right now and this summer.”
Järnkrok is a skilled playmaking center with exceptional quickness, but he lacks size (6-foot, 176-pounds) and strength. Still, he has excelled at the professional level in Sweden where he has shown the ability to play through heavy traffic over the last four seasons. He produced 44 goals and 74 assists in 185 career games for Brynäs in the Swedish Elite League.
Not sure of what his future holds, Järnkrok hopes to be back in North America next season either in the NHL with the Red Wings or in the AHL with the Griffins. Asked where he thinks he’ll be next fall, said Järnkrok, who signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Wings last May. “I really don’t know right now, but we’ll see.”
Not only did Jonathan Ericsson play in the World Championship with Järnkrok last spring, the Red Wings’ defenseman watched the speedy center lead Brynäs to the 2012 SEL championship.
“I watched him play against my brother (Jimmie) in the finals, so I watched a lot of those games,” Ericsson said. “I’ve seen him develop over the last couple of years and he keeps taking a bigger role every year.
“He’s got really good hands and good vision out there. He’s not a very big guy, but it’s something that you can work on and you can work on how you see the plays out there and he’s got all of the tools. … And he’s a rightie too, which is a good thing for us.”
During a one-game stint with the Griffins last week, Wings rookie Brian Lashoff was impressed with what he saw from Järnkrok, who, during his time in Grand Rapids has worked primarily on a forward line with Jurco and Landon Ferraro.
“It didn’t look like he was having too much trouble,” Lashoff said. “He’s a good player. He’s skilled, obviously, good with the puck, has good vision and he’s a good skater.”
Järnkrok gained notoriety at the 2012 World Championship in Stockholm by making the Swedish national team despite being just 20-years-old, which spoke volumes for his skill level. He played along side Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen and Ericssson, which didn't discourage Järnkrok, who had an assist in the eight games. He also finished second in the tourney, winning 67 percent of his face-offs.
“It was a lot of fun to play with them (at the World Championship),” Järnkrok said. “They’re the best players in the world and it meant a lot to me to see them that close.”
Järnkrok is scheduled to return home to Gävle, Sweden on Sunday.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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