Four years and change later, Mark Jankowski set to make his NHL debut

I remember where I was when the Calgary Flames drafted Mark Jankowski: sitting somewhere in one of the 200 sections at the Consol Energy Center.

It was the second year a group of friends and I decided to meet up at the draft. We knew each other from an online hockey board; we’d congregate every year to watch the fates of 18-year-olds get decided. It was generally a good time, Pittsburgh no exception.

There was a Columbus fan in our group, so she got first dibs on being excited for a new prospect; a trio of Caps fans were after, and then a Sabres fan. Finally, at 14th overall, with names I half-assedly knew about like Cody Ceci, Teuvo Teravainen, and Olli Maatta still on the board–

Oh. They’d traded down. Alright then, at least they got a second round pick out of it. The Flames tend to never have those, so that was good, at least.

And then, at 21st overall, sitting there dumbfounded as I remembered rumours about some kid playing in a Quebec high school.

… Okay.

I actually did meet him the following day. When the rest of the picks had been made and everyone, teams and media and fans and players are kind of just milling about the building, you sometimes run into players. I ran into Jankowski, told him I was excited about him; he struck me as a little overwhelmed but I guess that comes with the territory. Total beanpole back then, if further heightened from my perspective by the fact that he’s like a foot taller than me.

I can’t say much firsthand about his beanpole status nowadays – it’s presumably nowhere near as dire – but that excitement has waxed and waned over the four years and change since.

Though when you’re advertised as a work-in-progress, that comes with the territory. I’d been there the year before when the Flames drafted Johnny Gaudreau, figuring there was plenty to be excited about at the time but he’d probably be four years in college; I was ready.

Jankowski did not at all match Gaudreau’s NCAA totals. In fairness, though, few have.

By the time he finally got to be over a point per game player as a senior it was a small victory; a kind of “thank god, maybe there’s still something here, and that first round pick wasn’t wasted.” When he started putting up points right away in his first couple of AHL games, the surprise became more pleasant. Not as exciting as it had been the day after he was drafted; more of a relief.

When he kept it up to start his first professional season, it was at least attention-worthy.

With 12 points in 13 games for the Stockton Heat prior to being recalled – and one of the Heat’s top scorers at that – it was more inevitable that, four years and change later, he’d get that first NHL game in at some point. When? After the trade deadline, by which time he’d likely be acclimated to the pro game? When injuries struck?

The latter, apparently.

Any and all grief for this pick should be directed towards Jay Feaster and John Weisbrod’s completely unnecessary hype job. The gangly 17-year-old I met didn’t deserve that.

The only real qualms that could be found in it would be in playing the hindsight game, a strict guess at who they should have taken instead. We can note that Jankowski is one of two first rounders from that draft who has yet to play an NHL game (the other is Jordan Schmaltz), though it looks less bad when you note that just 17 of those first rounders have played over 100 NHL games to date, Maatta and Tanner Pearson the only ones taken after Jankowski to do so.

Seven non-first rounders from that draft have met the same mark. The draft becomes more and more of a crapshoot the deeper you go into it, and outside of knowing well in advance that Shayne Gostisbehere or Colton Parayko would turn into what they now are, there honestly aren’t that many egregious oversights when it came to picking Jankowski where he was selected.

Of course, now it’s up to him to prove he was the right choice in the first round all along, but it’s really cool to see him finally get that chance, four years and change later.

  • OKG

    I never doubted him in college, because if you watched the Friars there were no struggles, just a coach nonchalantly rolling four lines in a pretty safe system.

  • SmellOfVictory

    No ill will toward Jankowski, but at the time Maatta seemed like the slam dunk pick at 21, and even now he still seems like the best choice (although there’s still some time for Jankowski to prove that wrong). I’m happy he’s managed to find pro success, though. I wasn’t sure he would.

    • deantheraven

      Sure, but if the Flames had picked Maatta, then who would they protect this June when The Vegas Nights™ come a-callin’? Feaster the Beaster schooled ’em all!

  • McRib

    I would have chosen Maatta at the time because we had zero decent prospects back then and should have gone for a more NHL ready prospect (although I would never have traded down and would have taken Teravinen or Hertl instead. Trading down outside of the Top. 20 is generally a horrible idea as most years talent falls off dramatically afterwards, see Sutter era).

    That said, this is a great disclaimer for not judging prospects until they are 24+ because although Maatta has played 187 GP he is currently on pace this season for four points and his point totals have basically decreased every year in the league. I actually know why he fell in the draft (I was also at the draft) and his entire family was extremely obese and it scared away Scouts (not saying it’s right or wrong to judge people on their family members conditioning), but it may explain why as he has become more comfortable in the league his play has tapered off (conditioning?)

    Anyway getting back to the point, Jankowksi could still easily in my estimation end up as a Top.10-15 player from that draft, so let’s not lose our minds right away on draft day in the future, at least of course until they start taking fighters in the first round again (Pelech) then you can freak out or 5’11” Goaltenders (Irving) or players being carried by a surefire first round junior teammate (Chucko). Lol. Hopefully that day doesn’t come again though.

  • DoubleDIon

    I would have chose Teravainen at 14 and if I had traded down would have chosen Maatta. Still would take Maatta over Jankow in a heartbeat, but he’s sure turned a corner the past year or so. Before that I thought he would become the third line center of the Heat. Now I think he can be that at the NHL level.

  • Just.Visiting

    If Sam is going to be on the left side for a bit, I’d like to see Janko play with him so that we have a much better sense of how ready he might be and the residual areas of opportunity that require work.

    Providing limited fourth line minutes with players who are not offensive threats doesn’t offer a lot of useful insight for how Mark might fit in over the longer term.

    I’d be much more interested in seeing if he can be a third line centre now than a use that sees him in and out of the pressbox and given sheltered minutes on the fourth line before an inevitable return to the AHL.

    Two other comments.

    I liked the personal touches you added to the article.

    I thought there was a plan to do an updated report card on the prospect list at some point to understand the degree to which the summer ratings were still accurate?

  • JoelOttosJock

    Jankowski looked fantastic! Did all the little things..sure he got lost but everyone does. The offence will come. Needs to find line mates..but I think he could be good with Brouwer and Ferland. Side note..Brodie was terrible tonight..has been most of season..injury?

    • Franko J

      I think the last couple of seasons he caught some people off guard. Like Monahan and Gaudreau, other teams are game planning for him now and are exploiting his weaknesses. Now it is up to him to bring another level to his game in which I think he is struggling to find right now due to confidence and focus.