At number 10 with our annual prospect profile series is one of the accidentally most controversial players in the Flames’ system: high school prep-turned college player Mark Jankowski.
Whether you love him, hate him, think he’s the future, or think he’s a bust, one thing is undeniable about Jankowski: he gets this fanbase riled up like nothing else. It’s impossible not to have an opinion on this guy. You all do. Each and every single one of you. Don’t let me down, comments section.
Because ever since Jay Feaster declared this random high schooler would, within 10 years’ time, be viewed as the best player of the 2012 draft, everything has gotten as out of control as that statement.
The trouble got started way back in December of 2011. Tod Button, the Flames’ director of amateur scouting, had seen the kid, and liked him. Then John Weisbrod, the then-assistant general manager of the Flames, was in Quebec on his own scouting trip. He had a free day. Button told him to go watch Jankowski.
Weisbrod fell in love. As he told Scott Cruickshank after drafting Jankowski:
“He’s a long way away, he’s raw, he’s young, he’s still got to cross the crocodile-infested waters and develop properly — like, it’s a long way from draft day to play in the NHL — but the physical attributes this guy has. The athleticism. The skating. The hands. The fact that he’ll likely be playing at six-four, 215. I’ve said it to our scouts all week long — he’s Joe Nieuwendyk.”
That’s extremely lofty praise to lay upon a kid freshly out of high school. The Flames weren’t concerned about the fact he was playing high school hockey instead of major junior. Because of his Sept. 13 birthday, Jankowski was one of the absolute youngest players of the draft – the cutoff day is Sept. 15. And when Jankowski should have been drafted into the OHL, he was only 5’9.
When he was drafted into the NHL, he was 6’2, and 168 lbs. Today, Providence lists him as 6’3, 186 lbs.
We’re talking about a kid who suddenly had a brand new body to adjust to, and who now, entering his fourth season since being drafted, seems to be getting there.
Except he’s certainly not projecting to be the best player of the 2012 draft. Even though only 41 of those selected have seen an NHL game to date, even though it’s entirely possible Jankowski joins that group at some point, he’s already really behind, and there’s been absolutely nothing in his college career to suggest he’ll match a Filip Forsberg or Alex Galchenyuk.
Because for as many legitimate excuses you can make for Jankowski – he was always going to be a project player, he needed to fill out his new frame, he needed to adjust to the significantly higher level of hockey, he plays on a predominantly low-scoring team – he should be doing better.
Yes, he posted impressive stats from his time at Stanstead College; no, he did not have the best of the bunch.
Yes, he plays on a low-scoring team for Hockey East’s Providence College; no, he is not their top offensive player. Last season, Jankowski tied for 34th in points in Hockey East with 27; but was 85th in shots per game, with only 64: just 1.73 shots per game. When you’re at the bottom of your conference in a stat as simple as just getting shots on net, you can definitely be doing better.
However, in Jankowski’s defence: Providence really is low scoring, and does not generate that many shots as a team.
On the other hand, it does help show Jankowski isn’t capable of elevating above his team. He’s one of the better players on the Friars, but he himself can’t stand out – okay for a college guy, but not a good sign for a player with professional aspirations. Not to mention the drop from his sophomore to junior year – and he should be getting better as the seasons pass.
Jankowski is basically a somewhat big fish in a little pond.
And absolutely none of this is fair to the kid. It wasn’t fair to heap such lofty expectations on somebody playing in a nobody league. It wasn’t fair to point to that as a boast of one’s scouting prowess, that the Flames found this kid and knew that quality of competition be damned, that would be other teams’ loss and their gain. It wasn’t fair to take a 17-year-old still growing into his body and declare him the next Joe Nieuwendyk. Heads did eventually roll, likely in part because of this.
At the same time, it’s also important to not get caught up in every minuscule event you can find just to justify what’s happened. To enthusiastically, desperately point out that a prospect dominated a hockey development camp in July – you know, an event where the vast majority of bodies present will never set foot on NHL ice, and is ultimately meaningless – is the same as scouting a high school game and then cackling to yourself that you found the steal of the draft.
All that said, here’s what we know about Jankowski: he’s big, he has reach, he’s got deft hands, and he’s incredibly creative and talented. It’s just been difficult to translate that talent to an actual game situations on a consistent basis, when opposing players are coming down on you and forcing you to make quick decisions or at least hold your ground. Jankowski has played three seasons of collegiate hockey now, and no doubt he’s gotten stronger along the way, but for all his size, he’s simply not a physical player. If he doesn’t adapt to that by the time he reaches the AHL – likely a year from now – then that’s going to be a problem.
Some really nice positives that stand out for him? He’s more defensive than offensive, so the fact he can still be a reliable contributor to his team’s scoring is a nice positive; and he’s a good faceoff man, who has been improving every year. This past season, he was the second best in all of Hockey East, with a 58.1% victory margin. He was 15th in 2013-14 with 53.9%, and 52nd in his freshman year with 45.8%.
Think: you need to win the draw, well, you’ve got a creative, talented, defensive centre there to take it, who should not only be able to get you the puck, but has the potential to put it in the net, too.
Best case scenario, at this point? He turns into another Mikael Backlund. Which isn’t a bad thing – but it’s a far cry on what was initially sold from a management staff so aggressively enthusiastic about their first round draft pick for the second year in a row that they destroyed the narrative before it even began.
I like Jankowski more than others. I don’t think he’ll ever be a consistent top-6 point producer in the NHL, but I do think he’ll be an above-average third-line center that plays a good two-way game and also has very good size. Like Hickey, getting stronger will help him even more and he’s made some gains there. He plays hard and is a good defensive center. He’s also good on faceoffs and is hard to get off the puck. Strength is the one thing with him. He might need some time to get used to the pro game in the AHL level as well, especially if he’s to adapt his two-way game, but he did well transitioning to college hockey on that end of the puck, even his freshman year.
– Mike McMahon, College Hockey News