1. Where we’re at
As we round the bend into February, it comes with the tacit acknowledgement that this is when college hockey starts to get Serious. Teams really only have a month left in their regular seasons at this point, and at this point we have a pretty clear picture of what teams “are,” or at least, where they’re going to end up near the end of the year.
This is also true of players. Those who have been lucky in terms of PDO for the first 24 or so games of the season aren’t likely to be victimized by cold runs that are going to hurt their season point totals too badly, and those who have struggled to produce despite some solid play otherwise aren’t likely to mount any sort of major improvement in their numbers.
With this in mind, I figured it was as good a time as any to give y’all an update on the two Flames prospects I see on a regular basis: controversial first-round forward Mark Jankowski of Providence College, and steady Canada World Junior-er defenseman Brandon Hickey of Boston University.
We’re obviously going to start with the big name here.
He’s got 24 points in as many games, through 11 goals and 13 assists in all situations. That includes 7-5-12 in 12 games against Hockey East opponents (which tend to be of a higher quality). And from what I’ve seen in discussions about his play this year, the point total is clouding perceptions a bit.
It’s no revelation to say Jankowski spent his first three seasons of college hockey underperforming expectations, but he started to break out at the end of last season and, from a production standpoint, he’s obviously kept it up. Now, he’s played 24 times this year, and I’ve seen seven of those appearances, so this is what I can impart to you as far as what he’s done in the games I’ve observed:
As you can see he’s been a dominant possession player, and his team has outscored its opponents significantly when he’s on the ice. Perhaps, though, you’d say it’s a little too significantly to take it at face value: a 13.7 shooting percentage at 5-on-5 is pretty high, even for a player of his substantial skill level, but the .980 save percentage is absurd. Having a PDO of 111.7 is, you’d agree, out of control.
He has 4-11-15 in 24 games at 5-on-5, but only 1-3-4 in the seven games I’ve seen (which, to be fair, were against BU twice, BC twice, Lowell twice, and Northeastern once). In those seven games, he attempted 25 shots at full strength, 11 of which were on goal and one of which went into the net. That’s a personal 17.4 shot attempts, 7.66 shots on goal, and 0.7 goals per 60.
3. Some analysis thereof
So to that extent, it seems as though Jankowski really whales on weaker teams, which is what he’s done for much of his career.
And likewise, what those numbers kind of hint at is that Jankowski isn’t out there grinding against the toughest competition other teams have to offer. More often, he’s used as kind of a tweener between the second and third lines in terms of usage, depending on whether the team needs a goal. Often, they do not. These are therefore players Jankowski — a first-round pick — should be beating on a regular basis. To his credit, he is.
What I should also note here is that there was a weird disparity in Jankowski’s performances. He demolished Northeastern’s (as he should) and BC’s depth players (I’d guess that’s more of a wash), but got caved in against Lowell and BU.
He’s making a lot of hay on special teams, which is something else you’d expect a player of his skill level to do, but in overall games, as in the ones I’ve seen, he’s just not as much of a huge difference-maker at 5-on-5 as he probably should be. He’s only sixth on the team in 5-on-5 shot attempts, and fifth in both shots on goal and actual goals. He only has four goals at full-strength this season, and that, to me, is telling.
I know the Flames consider him “found money” at this point — which is an inexplicable and dizzying spin on “first-round bust” that I’d not heard before — and I’ve also heard him painted as a “good faceoff man,” which is patently untrue. I don’t track wins and losses in games I view, but for the whole season he’s at only 49 percent on almost 500 draws.
He’s a frustrating player to watch in that the skill is obvious, but his long-held reticence to get to the “hard parts” of the ice and actually get physically engaged is as present as ever. And it’s not like things are going to get easier in terms of competition as he approaches his pro career.
The thing I always say about Jankowski is that he’s a first-round pick who’s 11 months younger than Johnny Gaudreau. There are currently only three former first-round picks in the NHL who stayed for all four years of their college career: Brian Boyle, Kevin Hayes, and Eric Nystrom. The Rangers’ Chris Summers (3 GP this year) also technically qualifies, but he’s a 27-year-old with 70 games of NHL experience since 2010, so “not really an NHLer.”
The odds are looking very, very long that Jankowski makes the show at this point, and I’d advocate that the Flames just hope someone is sold enough on the production this year to give up a second-round pick for him. Probably won’t happen, but I think a second has more value to the organization at this point.
On the other hand, there is Brandon Hickey, a second-year defenseman for a dominant-in-possession BU team that is very much at the vanguard of that positive play.
Here are the numbers, without further ado:
(I have actually seen Hickey for eight games, but there was a failed experiment in tracking both he and Jankowski simultaneously. The data from the first attempt ended up being correct, but it was so hectic that I couldn’t keep up without stressing myself out.)
But these are the seven games I tracked, against a little more varied opponents (UConn, Denver, Providence, Michigan, Vermont twice, and Harvard), and as you can see he’s been a bear, generating more offensive zone possession time despite playing a huge chunk of ice time and starting in his own zone more often than not, limiting that of his opponents, and both filling the nets and constraining shot quality against.
5. More analysis
Again, you have to say 14.3 percent is too high for anyone’s on-ice shooting percentage, but it’s not like he’s the one benefiting from the bounces: at full strength, he has only 3-1-4 in 22 games, but man he generates a lot of that possession himself. For the games I’ve seen, he attempted 31 shots, got 11 on net, and scored once. But that’s from the blue line, so it’s pretty impressive as far as I’m concerned.
Moreover, he has attempted 99 shots at 5-on-5 in all his games, which is second on the team, a mile behind the 185(!) from undrafted senior Ahti Oksanen, whose sole purpose in life is to shoot pucks at an Ovechkin-like pace.
Based on his size, his ability to get the puck into the attacking zone, and take good, hard, low shots with regularity, this is a guy who — as I’ve been saying since last year — looks like a long-time NHLer to me. I’ve talked to some scouts who say, “He could play in the league for 10 years,” and I don’t know if I’d go that far but that also doesn’t sound too far off. He’s clearly very good at this level and, while I wouldn’t pull him out of college just yet, I think next season is effectively his contract year. He’s that good, and that close to ready.