It’s unusual for a first round selection to be under the radar, but somehow, Mark Jankowski has seemingly achieved that designation. The Calgary Flames’ controversial first round selection in 2012 – the year the team traded down to gain a second round pick and then grabbed Jankowski ahead of guys like Olli Maatta – Jankowski’s selection was reacted to rather pensively by the fan-base. The declarations of then-general manager Jay Feaster (and assistant GM John Weisbrod) that Jankowski would be a Joe Nieuwendyk-esque player and seen as the draft’s best player in 10 years didn’t reduce the sting, especially when Maatta became an NHL regular in short order.
But here we are, three years later, and after a pair of drafts that have seen the Flames put Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett in the National Hockey League (and the playoffs), and the progression of players like Johnny Gaudreau, Josh Jooris and Markus Granlund through the pro ranks, the pressure seems to be off Jankowski’s shoulders a bit. He is now what he probably should’ve been seen as when selected: a project pick.
But he’s a project pick that’s progressing as you would hope a player of his ilk would at this point, even if he doesn’t score a ton.
“I think I took a lot of good steps this year,” said Jankowski, reflecting on his junior year at Providence College following an on-ice session at development camp. “I think as the season went on I kept playing better and better, and I think I played my best hockey at the end of the year in the tournament, in the Frozen Four, when it mattered the most. I think that’s an important thing. When it counted, I think I stepped up. I think that’s a really good sign. I think, like I said, I made some really good steps this year.”
The Providence College crew get their NCAA Championship rings in August. Jankowski noted that the championship win stands alongside being drafted as his two biggest hockey moments so far. He hopes to build upon last season when he returns for a fourth and final year at college.
“I’m going to back to P.C., senior year, get my degree,” shared Jankowski, who notes he has seven classes left to go. “Have a good year at Providence. We’ll have a target on our back from day one, National Champions, so that’ll be a good test. I think that it’ll be really good, playing a lot of key roles, be the top guy and everything. I’m looking forward to this year a lot.”
It’s been a few years, but undoubtedly Jankowski has heard the discussions regarding his progression and NHL future. Heck, as a player plying his trade for an east coast college, there’s no way he hasn’t probably heard some snickering and comparisons to Olli Maatta in hockey circles. For his part, Jankowski seems relaxed, and undeterred by the comparisons to other players.
“I’m not really trying to look at anything else,” said Jankowski. “Everyone’s different, everyone develops at their own pace, so I’m like I said, from day one every day you’re trying to get a little bit better no matter what you do: in the way you eat, how you sleep, how you train, how you practice. Every day I’m just trying to get a little bit better and tune out everything else and worry about myself.”
For Flames followers hoping that Jankowski turns out to be as good as he was advertised in 2012 – or even harbouring more modest hopes that he’ll be a rock-solid pro – this past season was a step in the right direction. Jankowski was named a tournament all-star in the Frozen Four, and was a key two-way contributor during Providence’s march to a championship.
“That was a great personal goal,” said Jankowski of his all-star selection. “Like I said, as the season went on, playing better and better, and played my best hockey at the end there. That was a good personal goal. Obviously the ultimate goal, winning the championship there, that was the ultimate thing. I didn’t even know i won the other thing until my friend’s dad actually told me. He texted me and said ‘congrats on the award,’ and I said ‘what award?'”
To his credit, Jankowski seems well-aware of what he wants to improve upon. He praised Providence’s coaching staff for tutoring him in attention-to-detail in the defensive end, but noted he wants to add more to the offensive side to his game and be more of a catalyst on the ice. He had a career year with 27 points in 37 games last season, but you would imagine he’d like to see a point total north of 30 as a senior. He’s already discussed his role as a senior with head coach Nate Leaman.
“I’ve talked to him a little bit after the season ended and a little bit in the summer,” said Jankowski. “I think I’m going to be a top guy, someone he can rely on in all situations – penalty kill, power play, down by a goal late in the game, up by a goal protecting the lead late in the game. I just want to play a lot of minutes and be a key contributing factor offensively and defensively.”
Mark Jankowski was drafted as a lanky, unknown teenager from a Quebec prep school. Now he’s seen as an emerging leader on a good college team, a strong defensive player with unknown offensive upside, and an effective face-off man in his circuit. Now weighing around 198 pounds, Jankowski has grown into his body, too.
Absolutely none of these things guarantee that he’ll become a good professional hockey player, and at this point comparisons to Olli Maatta should be thrown out the window because the horses are out of the proverbial barn… and the guys that let those horses out have long departed from the Flames organization. But considering the traits that the Flames have seemingly coveted in recent drafts and free agency periods – size, hockey sense, and the ability to play a smart 200-foot game and win face-offs – Mark Jankowski could become a useful player in the mold of somebody like Joe Colborne.
Anything beyond that should probably be viewed as a big bonus, and it’ll probably be another couple years before we have any idea of what kind of professional he is (or even what he could be).