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.
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.