It may come as a surprise to all of you, but I am not a big Mark Jankowski fan. I’ll give you a minute to recover from the shock. Some of you are big Jankowski fans, and that’s alright, too. Some don’t have a strong preference either way, and that’s also cool. We’re all good pals here.
Regardless of where you think Jankowski will be in the future, the thing is that right now, he is not anything. He’s a guy who clearly still needs some time before he will be a thing, and needs more time before we can declare that thing to be something or nothing.
The Flames are believers in Jankowski being something, and that’s why they called him up to play. Well, that’s not the only reason; Kris Versteeg may have been hurt, but it was nothing serious. Jankowski is a third here on merit, a third on precaution, and a third because Johnny Gaudreau and Lance Bouma are still hurt.
But being here is also a detriment to Jankowski, because he’s not playing. Not playing his first two games after being dragged across the continent on short notice is fair enough, but he’s still with the Calgary Flames and not playing for them. That’s a bad thing.
Play your prospects
The purpose of the Stockton Heat is quite clear. Ever since cleaning house last July, the farm team has been reinvented to fit that moniker. The average age of the team is 22.36 years. If you remove filler guys like Mike Angelidis, Jamie Devane, Matt Frattin, and Matt Bailey, that number drops down to 21.43 years. The Heat are being used primarily for developing the future Flames as opposed to last year, where they were a storage closet for older “maybe” guys like Drew Shore, Kenny Agostino, and Derek Grant.
This has been a successful model so far into this young season. Morgan Klimchuk has emerged as a quality player for the Heat. Andrew Mangiapane is turning heads. Last year, Klimchuk was buried with 3/4 LW duties and his points total suffered for it. Mangiapane would probably be in the same spot this year if they continued the same model. Now both are top six wingers, and have taken leaps. Funny how that happens.
For the big club, the AHL is an incredibly valuable tool. You can let prospects play tough minutes in an inconsequential setting. This is why Jankowski’s been successful in the AHL. He’s playing in the top six, he’s playing with his future NHL teammates, and he’s probably learning more than he can learn eating popcorn in the press box. In last night’s Stockton game, Emile Poirier scored twice, and Rasmus Andersson got two helpers. Don’t you think it would be more beneficial if he was down there helping out?
This season will not be won or lost on the back of Jankowski. Right now, he’s not a major upgrade on Freddie Hamilton or Matt Stajan, the two guys he could feasibly beat out for a job (this becomes more difficult if you factor in their performances last night against the Leafs). Regardless if he plays the rest of his games in the NHL or the AHL this season, the Flames won’t be better or worse off for it. The only reason they’re keeping him around is because of injuries.
Bring out your dead
Not to personally insult anyone, I just wanted to include that clip.
Calling up and sitting Jankowski is even more confusing considering that the Flames have players that they can call up and sit without any damage to their prospects. The first example I think of is Linden Vey. At 25, he’s probably not going to get better than he already is right now: a fringe NHLer. That’s why he’s in the AHL. Vey, like Jankowski, is not going to be a major impact on the Flames’ chances. Unlike Jankowski, his development doesn’t suffer if he isn’t played.
So what’s the harm in sending Jankowski down and calling Vey up and sitting him as a 13th forward? He’s certainly not a valuable asset; the Flames threw him away at the first sight of Kris Versteeg and gave Versteeg Vey’s number, which is absolutely cold. Like Jankowski, he’s not a game changer. Let him rotate in every once in a while, give him nine minutes a night, and we’ll all be splendid.
That’s what Vey is for: inexpensive press box fodder that can occasionally be useful in the NHL. If the Flames didn’t try out that Nik Grossmann experiment, he’d probably be up here as that 13/14th forward instead of in the AHL.
(You could also apply this to Brandon Bollig, but I’m not tempting fate. Do not recall Brandon Bollig.)
Looking to the past
I’m always reminded of the 2014-15 season. Primarily because it was a grand time, but it also proves a neat point for this article.
Perhaps you remember the call-up dramas of Tyler Wotherspoon and Sven Baertschi. The Flames called up these guys often throughout the season because they were the best prospects at the time (that was only two years ago, which is a great sign of how far the prospect system has come). Baertschi went up and down three times and Wotherspoon four times (one was a paper transaction at trade deadline) that season, combining for just 16 regular season games.
I want to focus on Wotherspoon more so than Baertschi. The only regular season game he played was the regular season finale after the team had clinched. They started the playoffs benching him in favour of Corey Potter. They wasted his time.
His first recall was a very pointless call-up during the AHL all-star break. It lasted all of two days, and he was sent back down. Four days later he was recalled again, played zero games, and then sent down two weeks later. Over the course of three weeks, he played one hockey game. After Giordano was injured, he was recalled again and nearly went two full months without playing a game.
Think of how ridiculous this is. The Flames called up their #1 defensive prospect at the time, handed him a Nintendo 64 controller, and told him to have fun for two months. He certainly wasn’t better for it, because he’s still in the AHL. You have to wonder what might’ve been if the Flames chose to play him.
It’s probably not going to get to that point with Jankowski, but it’s best to nip this in the bud before it actually gets close.
Time is of the essence
The other major problem at play, specific to Jankowski, is that the Flames really only have a year to figure out what he is.
I’m naturally a pessimist, so first let’s assume the worst and say he’s not yet ready for the NHL at age 23. At that point, Jankowski would be five years removed from his draft and still without an NHL job. Statistically speaking, if he reaches that without having made the league, he has a very, very low chance of ever making the league. His trade value will also plummet, and the Flames will have a dud on their hands.
If he’s a dud, then the team will have wasted a serious chunk of time that could’ve at least kept other teams interested in him. If he’s in the AHL playing mediocre hockey, a team still might be interested (remember that the Flames acquired a conditional fourth for Max Reinhart last year, who is now in Germany). Teams become disinterested in a player fast if they’re barely playing in the NHL.
Onto the positive side. If he’s a stud in waiting, then the Flames are wasting his time by not playing him anywhere. If he needs playing time and experience before becoming an NHL regular, there’s a spot for him to do that. If he’s good to go, why isn’t he playing?
Jankowski needs to play somewhere. If the team thinks he can play in the NHL, they should make room for him. If they think he isn’t ready, they should send him down. There’s no real need for him right now, and there’s plenty of warm bodies to replace him. Prospects need playing time, especially if you want them to be successful. It is no good for anyone to have a prospect of note not playing.
The Flames have a relatively small window to see what Jankowski is, and they need to make the most of it. Holding onto him in the NHL until either Bouma or Gaudreau are healthy is the opposite of that.