The Flames need to either put up or shut up with Mark Jankowski

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?

Final thoughts

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.

  • Derzie

    Agree. If you plan for a bench-warmer, bring up a non-prospect. Prospects need to play. On the farm or with the big team. Sitting for a game to observe is good usage but no more than that.

  • redwhiteblack

    The 2012 picks above him, from the #14 pic we traded down with, to Matta at #22 have cemented themselves as regular NHL players. Janko has not… yet. There is a sharp drop off after Matta in picks playing regular in the NHL.

    He has done well in the AHL. Flames should continue to play him there. He can continue to build confidence then bring him back up when timing better. He can help keep Klimchuk, Mangiapane and others playing well with his playing time there.

  • Arminius

    Agree send him down if you’re not going to play him. Personally I wanted to see him last night at home for the leafs and all since he’s from that way but..than Freddie scores the game winner

  • PlacidSeanMonahan

    He was brought up to be given a taste before going back down until he finally returns after the TDL for good.

    It’s not really that difficult to understand dude.

    • If it’s a “taste,” then why is he still up here? The Flames have time to move him down and call someone up. I’m fine with giving him a game, but if it comes at the expense of more hockey, it’s a problem.

      I also question whether or not a “taste” does anyone any good. There’s no real evidence that playing a tiny amount of NHL games actually has a tangible effect on how a prospect performs. There’s a handful of people the Flames released this summer who also got their “tastes” in the NHL before going back to the AHL. Didn’t do them much good. Not to say playing one game actively harmed Jankowski, but the team not allowing him to play more is harming him.

  • Just.Visiting

    Thank you for this article.

    The handling of the young players being called up from the AHL has bothered me for years, and this is just the most recent example.

    Janko has size, hands, seems to have a really good hockey IQ, has had a solid grounding on the defensive side of things. He’s a really intriguing package in a year that doesn’t have nearly as much excitement as we had expected.

    I’d play him while he’s here and then decide whether he stays up or gets sent down. I don’t know enough about he would respond to that opportunity to guess the outcome. What I do know is that the current approach will see him sent down shortly without any of the team, the player or the fans having any better idea than we have today of how close he is to be a significant part of the future of the team.

    The organization and the player benefit in both scenarios in that we have either enhanced the team or identified areas of opportunity on which to focus in the AHL.

  • Juan Valdez

    “Regardless of where you think Jankowski will be in the future, the thing is that right now, he is not anything”

    Not true. Jankowski’s there because the give-a-sh*t meter wasn’t high enough and he’s being used to push players like Monahan to compete harder.

  • PrairieStew

    Well written, thoughtful article. I’m glad they let him play in Brooklyn, and after getting a week’s worth of NHL pay – it is time to send him back down to play 20 + minutes per game.

    My hope for him is this – he’s good enough to supplant Stajan by next fall – and that he can be #3 Centre behind Monahan/Bennett by the next fall when Backlund becomes a Free agent.

  • Locker Room Talk

    I definitely don’t know the ins and outs, but I imagine the Flames want to give him more than one game. And surely being with the big club practicing, training and spending time with the guys who made it can’t hurt. I don’t know at what point it becomes too long sitting around, but surely it’s not there yet.

    Edit, nope they sent him down, nevermind.

  • icedawg_42

    Can’t help thinking this is just as much about the current situation of the team. They don’t want to fall so far out of a playoff spot that it’s unrecoverable. So management wants the kid to see and taste the NHL but the coach doesn’t want to throw someone so green into the lineup with the season on the line. Flames look like they’re just starting to figure it out, but I think that’s a very fragile thing at this point.

  • icedawg_42

    I think the allure of the “taste” is having peasants carry your hockey bag, first class air travel, the mani/pedi the prime rib post game, real gatorade instead of toilet water with a spoonful of sugar substitute. You know pro vs minor league stuff. Haven’t you seen Slap Shot?

  • jupiter

    IMO its not critical that he plays every game. If he’s here for another week and only gets 1 game in ,its all good. He’s getting the opportunity to be around top players and evaluate where he fits in. That’s valuable stuff. He looked pretty good in the third period of the Brooklyn game. It’s not hard for me to imagine him nailing down a NHL job in the future, so missing a few AHL games is no biggy.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Janko was called up to fill in while the club was a bit thin at forward. Now he has been sent back. What’s the big stink? He will remain in Stockton until necessity brings him back or his outstanding play bring him back or the team wants to give him a serious test drive.

    Let’s not make issues where there aren’t any.

  • Tundradog

    Bringing him up and letting him play one game looked like a token thrown out to a kid that has worked hard and done everything the Flames have asked of him for 5 years. But the bottom line is this. That is the only NHL game the kid will ever play. He has grown, but sadly, he never had the skill set to be an NHL player.

    This may be one of the worst draft picks in NHL history. You take him in round 1, when you could have got him in the last round, and even in a late round the following season.

    • jupiter

      That’s funny Oil Troll. Even if Janko {21st pick} doesn’t make it,he doesn’t come close to Yakopov {1st overall} as the worst pick.

      Now ,lets talk about how you sucked for years {the k lowe strategy} until you landed a generational player with the cooperation of the the Bettman bingo lottery.

      Take your winning and be humble.

      • Tundradog

        Not a troll, on the contrary a 36 year Flames fan, ever since the team moved here. I saw games in the Corral, and was in the bars when they went to the finals in 86 and won in 89.

        Janko was ranked 43 out of North American skaters in 2012, putting his overall rank after goalies and international players well above 50. And that ranking recognized the huge upside he had, not where his level of play was in 2012. Most teams realizing how important the draft was, wouldn’t risk a pick on a kid that was a bad skater and had never played at any kind of a competitive level in his life. This was a high school player, and not US high schools. As a first round pick, everyone was beyond stunned.

        This is a 3rd or 4th line centre at best, and unless they are one of the very best 3rd line centres, they are a dime a dozen. Backlund is an exception – recognized as one of, if not the best 3rd line centre in the NHL.

        Ahead of him are Monahan, Bennett, Backlund, and currently Stajan, although we can toss him out in 2 years. Bouma and Hamilton are his direct competitors right now to be 5th centre, but so are Pribyl and possibly Shinkaruk. Shinkaruk appears to have the upper hand over Janko right now. That speaks volumes as to where management ranks Janko right now out of their centres – 8th, 7th at best. A free agent signing could replace him for good in the summer.

        He is likely not tradable for anything of value, just another minor leaguer.

        I will put one caveat out there on him playing again for the Flames. If they are out of the playoffs early, after the trade deadline, and only if they choose to play him over a centre management feels has less potential. There is something to be said for playing the young guys rather than veterans that are long in the tooth and short in the contract. Not sure even if Stajan sat or was traded he would be next or even 3rd in line, and I am not sure Stajan’s contract is tradable. For Monahan, Backlund, or Bennett to go, the player coming back would have to be a very high end potential forward or centre. Not sure even a draft pick would be worth any of those 3.

      • Tundradog

        Sorry, missed the Yakipov response. He was ranked #1 and considered as the best available talent in his draft year. He has already played more games than Janko ever will, and to a large extent, likely had his career derailed by a bunch of idiots coaching in Edmonton.
        Given the run of early pick forwards Edmonton drafted, I expected the Oilers to draft a defenseman before a forward that year, and was very pleased to see them take Yaki. The strategy at the time, was that you take the best player available, and then trade for or sign other positions you need to fill. Edmonton needed d’s, taking a forward prolonged their rebuild.

        By the way, I put GG at the same level as Eakins – A guy that will permanently damage the young talent of the Flames. Look at Monahan, Gaudreau, and Bennett so far this year. Last year Monahan was considered to be the next Toews, this year, he is sitting on the bench and getting 4th line minutes and matchups. Gaudreau was having a horrible season despite being one of the best players at the World Cup. Bennett has stalled, and is now not even looking like a centre at all.

        We also saw the start of Tkachuk not living up to his potential when he took 18 minutes in penalties at the end of the Philly game. Watch what MT is saying after games. He is a smart kid. He knows what is happening on the ice is wrong and he is quietly and indirectly questioning what is happening.

        Add Gio, Brodie, Hamilton to some extent, Elliott, and others from the core that are having crappy seasons, and you have the total disintegration of the core of the Flames. Right now a Johnson has a hot hand or they go 1 of 6 on the road during the last trip.

        This is a mess….

        • jupiter

          I also had season tickets in the Corral.Fun times for sure.

          For the record I wouldn’t have picked Janko at 21 either. I would have taken Teravinan at 14.

          However, I believe when you are picking past the 20th spot you are well into the 3rd or 4th tier of talent and gambling on a pick makes a little more sense.

          I believe he will become a 3rd or 4th line centre if he keeps improving.

          I agree GG is stifling the young talent as well.

  • jupiter

    To the FN writers who had Pribyl way ahead of Janko. Please explain again.It kinda seems like you are cheering for Janko to fail, as his numbers don’t meet your criteria.How the hell did Pribyl’s numbers meet your criteria?

    Don’t get me wrong . Id like nothing better than Pribyl to come up and kick ass.

    So please, do a comparison.I don’t have a lot of info on this player.