Kraken forward Calle Jarnkrok pushed himself hard Wednesday after rejoining teammates for what he hoped would be a final full-on practice session ahead of getting to play for real again.
For Jarnkrok, 30, healthy playing time is no longer taken for granted the way it might have been during eight mostly injury-free seasons with the Nashville Predators. Once touted for a possible 20 goals this season with a solid two-way game, the Swedish native instead battled through an early-season coronavirus bout and now a lower-body injury that has kept him out two weeks.
“It’s not ideal, for sure,” Jarnkrok said. “But I know stuff happens all the time. You just have to deal with it and get back as fast as you can. And just try to be in a good way when you get back.”
Part of the early struggles endured by the expansion Kraken in adapting to coach Dave Hakstol’s system of play has been the number of players moving in and out of COVID-19 protocol. Kraken forward Colin Blackwell on Wednesday became the latest player to enter protocol, one day after team captain Mark Giordano exited his following a 10-day absence.
The cases of Jarnkrok and now Blackwell are an indication of some of what has been lost in terms of preseason planning for a campaign already nearly one-third done.
Blackwell had been coming off a breakout season with the New York Rangers in which he scored a career-high 12 goals in an abbreviated schedule. The Kraken took him in the NHL expansion draft, and there were hopes that he, too, might score 15 or 20. But they were largely dashed by a lower-body injury in training camp that caused him to miss the season’s first month.
He had scored twice since his return and was a healthy scratch in Monday’s loss to Pittsburgh as he attempts to find the stride that worked so well for him in New York. Now, entering protocol, that’s on hold.
Jarnkrok, who has reached the 15-goal mark four times in his career, has pretty much had Blackwell’s season in reverse. He missed the team’s initial six-game road trip as one of five players that entered COVID protocol on the eve of the season opener, then later suffered the injury that has kept him out the past two weeks and an additional five contests.
In between, as with Blackwell, it took several games for Jarnkrok to find somewhat of a groove and the back of the net. The 11 games missed by Jarnkrok have nearly matched the career-high 14 he lost to an upper-body injury in 2017-18 — in what otherwise was an almost unscathed career with the Predators.
Jarnkrok’s only Kraken goal came in his 13th game, against the Washington Capitals on Nov. 21. Afterward he quipped: “It took a little longer than I wanted it to.”
And it isn’t just on the offensive side where some of Jarnkrok’s traits have taken time getting in sync with teammates.
Ordinarily a strong defensive player, Jarnkrok is a minus-8 in plus-minus this season — meaning he has been on the ice for eight more goals against than his team has scored with him out there. In Nashville, his lone season on the negative side of the ledger was a minus-1 in 2016-17.
Hakstol hopes to get Jarnkrok out there Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets at Climate Pledge Arena in what likely will come down to another game-time decision. The Kraken had thought of playing him Monday against Pittsburgh but aborted that plan pregame and then gave him a day off practice Tuesday.
“He’s never really had a chance to hit his stride here,” Hakstol said. “We have a pretty good idea of the positives and the things that he can bring to the table. And the importance that he has to our team.
“But in reality he’s never really been able to get into a rhythm and get a great string of games. So hopefully that will happen.”
Until then, Jarnkrok crosses his fingers, laces up his skates and does what he can. On Wednesday he practiced on a line with Brandon Tanev and centered by Yanni Gourde and said he felt good.
And on Thursday he’ll hope to start contributing again.
“I think we were on a good run there on the road, and it was fun to watch the guys play,” Jarnkrok said. “I think that’s something to build on. We’re always trying to get better still.”