“I think having younger players is a bit of a must in today’s NHL. Their enthusiasm and speed is great, and they bring a lot to your team. To bring in youth is necessary and I like our veterans that can go along with them,” Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said on Sunday. “I’m excited about the young guys we have here, they come to this level a lot more prepared than they used to in the past.”
Introducing our newest segment this month, we’ll be looking at the four main areas that defined the Nashville Predators 2013-2014 season. Every Thursday come here for the next part in the series as we “throwback” to the players, moments and events that defined this past campaign.
In March, the Predators dealt their first-ever draft pick, David Legwand, to Detroit. In return, the club added a conditional third-round pick (now a second), center Calle Jarnkrok and forward Patrick Eaves. Jarnkrok began his tenure with the Predators playing for their minor league affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, but was given his first chance at the NHL level later that same month.
Once playing in Predators gold, all the rookie did was score. From March 29th:
The Swede has only played in five NHL games in his career. He’s recorded a point in every one of them.
Acquired by Nashville earlier this month, the 22-year-old began his fresh start with the Predators playing for the Admirals. In Milwaukee, Jarnkrok exploded with seven points in five games. He earned a call-up by the Predators and made his NHL debut on March 21st in Calgary.
Playing on line with forwards Craig Smith and Gabriel Bourque that night, Jarnkrok showed speed and a quick shot over 16 minutes of ice time. But most importantly for an offensively challenged team like the Predators, he collected a point.
Over the next eight days, Jarnkrok has shown he won’t settle for being just a flash in the pan. On Tuesday against Colorado, he recorded his third-straight game with an assist and scored his first career shootout goal. In only three games with the Predators, there was quickly just one more major accomplishment the rookie needed to add to his resume: his first NHL goal.
In the very next game, Jarnkrok took a feed from Bourque in the high slot and rifled a puck past Buffalo Sabres goaltender Matt Hackett for his first tally at the game’s top level.
Add in another assist last night, and it’s five points in five NHL games for Jarnkrok.
The scoring streak would eventually end for the rookie on March 30th against the Capitals, but his popularity hasn’t dimmed in the minds of fans. In his first game at Bridgestone Arena, Jarnrkrok used a slick backhand to light the lamp in the shootout, and that’s all some critics needed to see.
Jarnkrok’s offensive production overshadowed his fellow Swedish countryman, Filip Forsberg, but Forsberg shouldn’t be forgotten about. The 19-year-old spent the majority of the 2013-2014 with the Admirals, but took a step forward in developing the defensive side of his game.
Forsberg has been especially fun to see evolve his game in Milwaukee this year. He is under the Nashville microscope, sure, but he is still so young. To see him elevate his defensive game by season’s end–to the point he is a quality penalty killer–has been far more fun for me to see than his flashy stick handling. Predators fans should expect both to start their seasons off in the NHL. I only hope both get to play similar capacities as they did with the Admirals.
Nashville general manager David Poile has said he believes Laviolette will be able to assist the club’s younger forwards in their development; Jarnkrok and Forsberg should be the two main beneficiaries. Forsberg remains behind Jarnkrok on the depth chart, but should have a decent chance of skating in the Predators top nine in October.
Rookies on the blue line also made a large impact this season, especially the No. 4 pick in last year’s draft, Seth Jones.
The problem for young defenseman, however, is that most of their progression comes by learning from mistakes, not the flashiness of scoring a goal. For rookies Jones and Mattias Ekholm that was evident this year, but the pair fine-tuned their play immensely in their own zone by season’s end.
A lot of pressure was placed on the 19-year-old American, but Jones didn’t fade away under the high expectations. There are a lot of ups and downs in an NHL season, and Jones performed admirably during some of the toughest stretches this campaign.
He explained how he was seeking to add consistency to his game near the end of this season:
This year, both Jones and Ekholm moved past the line blurring young players between the minors and the NHL, and the Predators defensive corps has benefitted immensely because of it. Since the end of the season, Poile has commented he would keep the Predators current group of defensemen for the next 10 years if he could–high praise from the team’s GM.
Ekholm described being paired with Jones after a tough shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators in January:
The rookies on the roster may have impacted this season a lot for the Predators, but it’s what they do next that matters the most to the club. If Jarnkrok, Jones and others can build upon the baby steps they took this season, the Predators fortunes and playoffs chances should benefit greatly.