1. The Jankowski decision
So Mark Jankowski is going to forego the USHL and head straight to Providence College and the best top-to-bottom college hockey conference in the NCAA. People seem more or less thrilled by this decision.
I’m not sure I get it. Okay, yes, he was among the five best players at this year’s development camp and displayed high-level skill in a number of areas, led primarily by his hands around the net. That’s good. You can count the number of Flames prospects with Good Hands Around The Net on, well, less than one of those.
Calgary wanted him in Hockey East. Providence wanted him in Hockey East. His USHL team wanted him in the USHL. The latter two were considerations made for reasons that seem fairly obvious.
As a consequence of the organization supporting Jankowski’s move straight from a Quebec high school league to NCAA hockey, most people seem to think this will only speed up his development, giving him a pro window of "some point in the hazy and somewhat-far-off future" to "probably in a few years or something? maybe?" which I guess is improvement.
The team is high on him, Providence obviously is as well. But let’s also keep in mind that this pick was, for everyone not on the Calgary Flames’ payroll (either directly or indirectly), a bit of a headscratcher and a longshot when it was made.
2. Some things we need to get straight
One of the main arguments against my "WHAT? ARE THEY CRAZY?" tweets in the immediate aftermath of the Jankowski-to-Providence announcement was that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I have, I’ll very readily admit, not seen this kid play. I didn’t see a second of development camp, where he played against older kids, some of whom have NCAA experience. I didn’t see one shift in whatever backwater Quebec High School league he came out of.
Sure, absolutely. I must plead ignorance on all things directly related to looking at Mark Jankowski play hockey.
But at the same time, I watch more NCAA hockey than probably anyone poo-pooing my criticisms of the decision has. I watch a lot. A real lot. I’ve seen drafted kids come out of leagues of all types and I’ve seen them succeed and fail. Proponents of the move say Jankowski’s ready, and they’ve seen him, but they don’t know what they think he’s ready for.
3. Why am I dubious?
Let me count the ways. SUBLIST TIME!!!
a) He needs to develop physically.
This is a thing that has been more or less agreed upon by all involved. College will allow him to do that because unlike the USHL, where kids play upwards of 50-plus games before the playoffs start, NCAA hockey is nearly all practice and lifting. Between October and early March, teams can play a maximum of about 36 games, which will help a kid develop his game and his body.
But with that having been said, it’s not like he wouldn’t be lifting in the USHL, and don’t you think that being able to compete physically with kids who max out at about the age of 20 would be a lot easier for him than skating against men who can be as old as 25? There are some big, mean boys in Hockey East who have been playing the game at a far higher level than Jankowski has for several years, and they would absolutely delight in knocking him from the attacking blue line to, oh, let’s say Mars.
The argument I heard against this line of reasoning is that people said the same thing about li’l Johnny Gaudreau last season. Which is dumb. Gaudreau was never going to be able to fill out his frame to the point where he could compete physically. Jankowski is 6-foot-3. He’s almost a foot taller than Gaudreau and, according to the Flames’ own website, only 27 pounds on him. And hey guess what, Gaudreau played a year in the USHL.
Guys you’ve never heard of, big, mean very good defensemen like Sean Escobedo and Kyle Bigos are going to be sitting in the tall grass just over the other side of the offensive blue line and all to eager to put a tall, reedy freshman into the third row every chance they get.
b) Seriously, this is a Quebec high school league
Once again, I must plead ignorance. I don’t know exactly how hockey for 17-year-olds works in Quebec. I’m pretty sure the top-flight kids play major junior in the QMJHL, and the kids who are a step below that and need an extra year or three to develop play Junior A in one of a number of leagues. Then there’s some other junior leagues too probably. After that, I’m not quite sure where high school hockey fits into this.
Obviously, when Jankowski was drafted people racked their brains and discovered that his league had never produced a single draft pick, let alone a first-rounder. I asked around with some in-the-know Hockey East people, and we didn’t have too much success in coming up with anyone who has ever made the jump from it to this top-flight NCAA conference. So, y’know, the trend continues.
Again I was told players make the jump from high school to high-level college hockey pretty regularly. This is a true fact. In the WCHA and CCHA, players jump right from Minnesota high school to Division 1, likewise Hockey East and the ECAC drawing from New England high school hockey. But the difference is that often, what’s called "high school" hockey is really "prep hockey," where kids get to play even after they turn 19? Guys like Chris Kreider, Cory Schneider, Jon Quick, and so forth came from just such a league, and they all played New England prep. The 18-year-old younger kids tend to come out of Minnesota schools, which are an entity unto themselves.
Saying this Quebec league is a high school league on the level of those in New England and Minnesota because the players are "high school players" is attached is like saying the ECHL is the same as the NHL because the players "professionals." Again, the latter produces NHL prospects regularly, and the former produced none ever except Jankowski.
c) Is his game where it needs to be?
The reason the USHL produces so many NHL players is that it is the premier feeder league for college hockey and, just a few weeks ago, Zemgus Girgensons (who, it should be noted, was available when the Flames were scheduled to pick) went straight from it to the AHL. The USHL’s website says it has sent 264 players to the NHL, be it for one game or a whole lot more.
Again, it’s not for me to say whether he’s ready to play against grown-ass men in Hockey East because I haven’t seen him play, but even elite players on much faster tracks to the NHL (Kreider, for instance) don’t exactly have the easiest go of things in this league. Which brings us to…
4. What’s he up against?
Chris Kreider is, I guess, the best possible comparison to draw here. He went 19th overall to the Rangers and has already appeared for the team in these past playoffs, where he was a bit of a sensation.
He was, again, considered to be much less of a project than Jankowski, and came into the league far later into being 18 years old than Jankowski. The latter will still be 17 when Providence College’s first semester starts, but will have turned 18 about two weeks before the first puck drops this season, and the former turned 19 about a month after his freshman season ended.
More to the point, though, Kreider may have scored 15 goals as a rookie in Hockey East, but wasn’t even the top freshman scorer on his own team, let alone in the league. He also went to a premier pro development program at Boston College, which churns out forwards and defensemen regularly. Kreider had all the hockey talent and skill in the world, but didn’t think the game at an elite level. I’ll tell you why: I saw him play high school hockey because his home rink was about a 20-minute drive from my house, and he was way, way too good for that league. He scored 33-23-56 in 26 games in a league where there were many other Division 1-bound players. Jankowski would have played against roughly zero in compiling his near-pornographic 53-40-93 in 57 games. I know which I take more stock in.
I’m very much willing to wait and see on Jankowski, but I think this is being done all wrong. The team and the college can both say this was the right decision, and one supposes only time will tell. He’s going to get lots of minutes and lots of power play time this winter because Providence, unlike Kreider’s BC, is more or less bereft of high-quality offensive players (the top scorer had 10-15-25 in 38 games last season and only development camp invitee Tim Schaller approached a point a game with 21 in 26).
I guess my point is: You often hear people say guys were rushed through their development process and essentially ruined. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the opposite said. If the kid’s not supposed to be fast-tracked anyway — and we all agree that he’s not — then the proving year in the USHL hurts no one.
5. Here’s Jarome…