July 25 2013 11:56AM
1. Yes, we're still talking about Mark Jankowski
I kind of can't believe this is a thing that is still ongoing, but there is, apparently, still some dispute about the particulars of Mark Jankowski's freshman season at Providence College.
For those that missed the firestorm on Tuesday afternoon when Justin broke down the particulars of his season in a fairly thorough way, the general point from those who believe implicitly that he will do nothing but succeed in his quest to make it to the NHL was that he's still really, really young.
That much is true. He was 18 for the entirety of the 2012-13 NCAA hockey season and will be until this fall, as a matter of fact. He's so young, really, that if he'd been born a month later, he would have been drafted this summer instead of last. That's being propped up as an argument in his favor. But there's a problem with that, and any other suppositions his supporters would make about his play are a little off base.
2. Clearing up a few misconceptions
One of the things I certainly saw a lot in Jankowski's defense over the past few months, let alone in the comment section the other day, is that it's not an easy transition to go from Quebec high school hockey to the NCAAs, which is essentially more of a men's league in which players can be as old as 25.
That's certainly true, and the thing I've always said about it is that the Flames rushed him into college hockey, when he originally planned to go to the USHL for a season as a means of furthering his development before he headed off to Providence. That was the plan right up until he dropped a few jaws at development camp last summer, when all involved decided that it would be a good idea to push him right into the NCAA system, essentially skipping a step in the adjustment process. Going from a league that has produced no drafted players ever to one that is the world's premier junior A league would have been a good idea, but going from A to C without visiting B was the third mistake the Flames made with Jankowski (the first being drafting him where they did, the second being projecting him as the best in the draft class a decade from now).
The reason, I think, that the decision to push him into college rather than let him go to the USHL is that it prevents him from becoming a Justin Schultz-type escapee. Under the old CBA, if you were drafted, then played junior for a year, then went to college, you could essentially do what Schultz did and opt out of being signed by the team that drafted you, and instead become a free agent. The Flames wanted to protect their asset, and you can't blame them for that as far as it all goes. But in doing so they opened the kid up to criticism that his defenders would call undue, and allowed the avalanche of expecations that they themselves started to fall on him the second he was a mediocre freshman on a subpar team. Which is exactly what he was.
3. Another problem with the "transition" argument
So okay, the idea that the transition is tough when you're just starting out in college hockey also seems to imply that his performances, logically, must have gotten better over the second half of the season, and this likewise was not the case.
4. And what are we left with?
When looking at the season as a whole, if you'd say it was anything better than underwhelming you're deluding yourself. He's a project at the very best right now, and with little around him in terms of other promising prospects, you can't really expect any type of huge step forward. I saw someone say they thought he could be a point-a-game player, and another who said he could double his point total, and those would be more or less the same thing.
One thing that I don't think is necessarily fair to Jankowski is comparing him with Johnny Gaudreau, who's a completely different player on a much better team, and whose attributes suit him for success in the college game far better than do Jankowski's. You see a lot of very undersized players put up massive point totals in college hockey then not do much in the pros. Gaudreau also has teammates who are a lot better than the guys Jankowski is playing with in the best of circumstances. Gaudreau had the benefit of playing the USHL first as well.
It becomes, then, a question of whether you think Jankowski can make up the ground lost to that extra year of development. Many who have never seen him play except maybe in the occasional game online are convinced that he'll be able to do that with this summer, and become a force in college hockey. Friends of mine who watch Hockey East games all over the league with regularity are less convinced, and I am in that boat as well. I think he'll be better next season, but only marginally so, and mainly because he couldn't have less of an influence given the positions he was put into by his coaches as a means of encouraging his success.
There's no denying the kid has tools; he's good in tight spaces, and he can do some dazzling stuff with the puck when inspiration seizes him. However, whether he can actually use those tools is very much up for debate, and I think he still might not be especially prepared for the kind of physical play college hockey necessitates (even if he put on 20 pounds this season he'd still be reedy-looking).
5. Expectations for massive improvement
The problem with everyone who expects him to take this huge step forward in the coming season is that they're being as unreasonable as Jay Feaster was on draft day. There were something like 31 point-per-game players in all of college hockey last season. Many of them were on the same teams. The biggest point-per-game total on Providence was Nick Saracino's 18 in 28 (.643), and his 28 games played was 10 short of the 38 Providence played.
So if Jankowski is going to take that big of a step forward, he's going to have to do it himself. He's already getting power play time and more minutes than most first-year players tend to receive, and as a consequence these projections that he'll be able to heft the weight of all that expectation onto his own back and start putting up points alongside Ross Mauermann, and Derek Army, well, I wouldn't go setting my watch to it.
Everyone would probably agree that Feaster's comments about Jankowski being the best player in this draft were unfair to the kid. So, too, is expecting him to go from a meek nonfactor in almost every game of his career to a transformative presence on a mediocre team, especially at his age and with his past experience. None of it is fair to him, and the criticism people like me have to level at the player — if nothing else, just to balance out the unhinged hope-so proclamations of those who would blindly support him and throw palm fronds at his feet just because he's a former No. 1 Flames pick — is probably also not super-duper fair.
Here's what I can tell you, and what I believe to be a fair look at all of this: He didn't do enough to merit the expectations this past season, and he would still have to blow the downwardly revised expectations reasonable NCAA hockey observers now have for him out of the water to get back to breaking even.
That's just how it is. Doesn't matter how many box scores you looked at last winter or how much you like his tools. It's an uphill battle for the kid.