Way, way back in 2012, the Calgary Flames were in a much different place. Following the brief NHL debut of 2011 first round selection Sven Baertschi during the 2011-12 season, the hope was the Flames could get similarly immediate help in the 2011 cattle call.
Instead, the Flames traded down to recoup a previously-traded second round pick and selected relatively obscure forward Mark Jankowski – a forward who had absolutely dominated Quebec high school hockey and was headed to the NCAA. It was hardly the immediate help that Flames fans hoped for, and the pick didn’t exactly age well in light of 2013 and 2014 top picks (Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett) heading straight to the NHL.
But four full seasons after his selection, Jankowski is now under an entry-level contract and is finally going to be playing professional hockey. With a lot of intrigue and mystery surrounding him, Jankowski comes in as the 11th-ranked prospect on FlamesNation’s prospect rankings. He was #10 last year.
A brief history
The grand-nephew of hockey legend Red Kelly (and the grandson of former NHLer Lou Jankowski), Jankowski’s family has been involved in high-level hockey since forever. He opted to ply his trade growing up in Quebec prep school hockey (rather than the QMJHL or OHL), and he served as captain and put up a lot of points in his draft-eligible season. (Granted, you’d expect him to, but good work, I guess…)
The story goes that then-Assistant General Manager John Weisbrod was going to scout a game in Quebec, but his schedule freed up due to a crazy snowstorm. He called head scout Tod Button, who told him that he was near where Stanstead College – Jankowski’s team – was playing. Weisbrod went to that game instead… and fell in love with Jankowski’s raw skills. The Flames took him at 21st overall in the 2012 Draft.
The message after Jankowski was selected was two-pronged: this kid is gonna be good, but he might take a while to get there because of how raw he is right now. (Some comparisons were made to Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk…)
Read more: Setting expectations for Mark Jankowski
So Jankowski went to Providence College to learn under head coach Nate Leaman. He increased his point total every season he was at Providence. He learned how to be a reliable center. He won an NCAA Championship in 2015 and was named to the All-Tournament Team for his effective two-way play. He signed with the Flames following the end of his college season and joined the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat on a tryout, generating six points in eight appearances.
Read more: A final college update on Mark Jankowski
Flames Player Development Coach Ray Edwards noted that one of the benefits of Jankowski’s four years in college was that it aided his physical development.
“He had to get into his body. When
they drafted him he was 175 pounds. He’s grown and he’s filled out,
but he’s really dug into off-ice training. I think right now he’s
somewhere close to 210 pounds and that was a goal for us to have him
for training camp.”
Stockton Head Coach Ryan Huska shared that he liked what he saw out of Jankowski during his brief tenure with the Heat.
“I was very impressed with him. When a guy comes in, and I don’t really know a lot about him… he was
at one development camp and that was the extent of my viewings of
him. I heard all along from our player development guys that he’s a
solid guy away from the puck. Sometimes he plays it a little bit too
safe but again, most coaches like that because he’s responsible. We
quickly saw that. I was impressed with how he played away from pucks,
but I was also impressed with his ability to see the play and make
plays. So by the end of his tenure with us, he was a guy that we used
in all key situations.”
Edwards’ assessment of Jankowski’s two-way play agreed with Huska’s, particularly in regards to the young forward’s attention to detail.
“They’re going to trust him. He’s a
really trustworthy guy. Give the coaches in Providence a lot of
credit; he understands detail, he understands positioning, he
understands defensive structure. And one of the toughest things,
having coached in the American League for a long time, when players
turn pro coming from amateur situations not a ton of them understand
Huska shared his excitement at seeing what Jankowski can do as a first-year pro.
“For me, you have a big centerman like that; if
he continues to get stronger, continues to work on his skating,
there’s great opportunities for a guy like that as well. So I’m
excited to see what he’s going to be able to do in his first year of
pro hockey because he did make a great impression on our staff.”
Edwards had praise for Jankowski’s ability to make plays in traffic and battle for pucks, though he did note that the competitiveness of pro players and the higher cost of battles in the high-rent areas (such as in front of the net, in the corners and in the faceoff circles) would be an adjustment for him.
“When you get to this level, the
juice gets higher. When you turn pro, it’s
a livelihood now, and people aren’t going to give that up. That’s the
thing I’ve been talking a lot to Mark about, understanding how
competitive it will get and to be an everyday player you’ve got to be
willing to do those things.”
What comes next?
The baseline expectation for Jankowski is likely him becoming at least a solid AHL center in his first season of pro hockey. Bear in mind that the Heat, in terms of established centers, have a lot of question marks after the departure of players like Derek Grant and Bill Arnold (and the mid-season trade that sent Markus Granlund to Vancouver), so he’ll get a lot of ice time.
But when you hear a lot of the comments about Jankowski’s physical readiness and how trustworthy he is, and you look at how thin the depth chart gets behind the four NHL centers, Jankowski’s probably a good training camp (or good start to the AHL season) and an NHL injury away from getting some NHL time this season.
Read more: Mark Jankowski has set his sights on the NHL
It’s a big year for Jankowski, who could still emerge as one of the organization’s top prospects with a good AHL season. Keep an eye on him.
|#20 – Ryan Culkin||#19 – Linus Lindstrom|
|#18 – Morgan Klimchuk||#17 – Mason McDonald|
|#16 – Brett Pollock||#15 – Matthew Phillips|
|#14 – Dillon Dube||#13 – Emile Poirier|
|#12 – Brett Kulak|