It’s hard to recall a first round selection in recent Calgary Flames history that has been met with more continuous hand-wringing than Mark Jankowski. Short of situations where the team traded away a pick, Jankowski’s selection has been criticized, analyzed and occasionally eviscerated by many of those that follow the team – including often by the site you’re currently reading.
While it’ll take awhile for him to catch up to Olli Maatta in terms of National Hockey League games played or impact, Jankowski has quietly withstood the slings and arrows of being a controversial first round selection. He earned a degree from Providence College, won an NCAA Championship and had a very strong first professional season.
Knocking on the door for an NHL job this fall, Jankowski has improved from an 11th ranking last year and lands sixth on this year’s prospect rankings.
A brief history
It’s probably safe to say that a lot of the derision of Jankowski’s selection in 2012 came from two sources: (1) they passed on Finnish uber-defenseman Olli Maatta twice (at 14th overall when they traded down and at 21st overall when they selected Jankowski) and (2) the hyperbole and stories surrounding the selection seemed to beg for eye-rolling reactions from the peanut gallery.
The highest-ever pick out of a Quebec high school, the legend went that the Flames fell in love with Jankowski after then-assistant general manager John Weisbrod drove through a snowstorm to see him play.
In December, he happened to be in Quebec to see another prospect — who, because of injury, ended up not playing. That left Weisbrod with a gap in his schedule. Button told him to fill it with a trip up the highway to see Jankowski.
So Weisbrod pointed his rental car into a blizzard — and away he went.
Beyond the kid’s name, he knew little.
“I can tell you I was in a bad mood — I was driving two and a half hours through snow,” said Weisbrod. “But by the middle of the second period, I was laughing out loud by myself in my seat.”
The Flames liked Jankowski enough that they had a stitched-on namebar for his draft jersey. He was simultaneously touted as a longer-term project (due to his lanky frame) and a potential Joe Nieuwendyk clone. The bar was set really high for a kid who had only really played Quebec high school hockey.
Jankowski headed off to Providence College as part of a pretty large freshman class in 2012 and got to work. He was a fairly productive freshman and sophomore in his first two seasons, posting respectable numbers but hardly blowing the doors off with his production. The beginning of his most impressive college run arguably began in the 2015 NCAA postseason, as he caught fire during the conference playoffs and eventually was named an NCAA tournament all-star as he helped Providence College capture their first NCAA Championship.
He continued his momentum as a senior, scoring over a point-per-game and being named both a Hockey East conference all-star and a Second Team All-American. He followed that up with six points in eight games for Stockton on a tryout following his signing with the Flames. Given his college success, his draft stature and how long everyone had been waiting for him to play a pro season, expectations were high for his first full season in Stockton.
Even given those expectations, Jankowski performed quite well. He had a share of the team lead in scoring with Linden Vey – an experienced pro – and led the AHL in goals scored by a rookie and was named to the All-Rookie Team. (Granted he was competing with players who were called up to the NHL mid-season, including Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel.) He spent a week in the NHL and made his debut in November against the Islanders. By the end of the season, much of the action on the ice for Stockton flowed through Jankowski.
Calgary Flames development coach Ray Edwards had a pretty straight forward assessment of Jankowski’s impressive first pro season.
He was excellent. I don’t know how else to say it. What he does, he’s able to handle so many responsibilities: whether it’s penalty kill role, faceoff role, power play role, top matchups, he saw it all. Give Ryan [Huska] and his staff a lot of credit, they really worked with Mark with being more competitive on the puck, more competitive without the puck. It was a big part of his growth, understanding when you’re competing against men you’ve got to find another level and I think that was one of Mark’s biggest gains last year.
Edwards added that Jankowski is working on his strength and skating, hoping to add pace and quickness to his game over the summer.
Stockton Heat head coach Ryan Huska shared Edwards’ enthusiasm for Jankowski’s first pro season.
I think for us, we have a lot of confidence that we could use him in all sorts of situations. Not just offensive situations, but he’s probably our most reliable centerman that we had in regards to defending as well where he cares about not being on the ice when a goal’s scored against us, he doesn’t want any part of that so he makes good decisions. I think he’s a calculated young man, where all the decisions that he makes he’s got a plan. He stayed in school for a reason; he wanted to make sure he was ready when he turned pro. I think there was always a belief in himself that when he came here for his little stint last year, he had a feel for it and he had an understanding of where his game needed to be to have success. When he came back last year, I think he was ready for it and he was put in situations where he was able to have success.
What comes next?
By virtue of having a strong first AHL season, having dipped his toe in the NHL waters a bit and having established himself as the Flames’ best (perhaps only) pro center prospect, Jankowski is expected to push for a Flames roster spot this fall. He turns 23 during training camp, so he’s still pretty young, but the hope is probably that he continues his upward trend from the last couple years and adds another gear to his game. As it stands right now, he’s probably a fringe NHLer, but he could become more if he keeps improving.
|#20 – Ryan Lomberg||#19 – Adam Ollas Mattsson|
|#18 – Daniel Pribyl||#17 – Eetu Tuulola|
|#16 – Adam Ruzicka||#15 – Emile Poirier|
|#14 – David Rittich||#13 – Hunter Shinkaruk|
|#12 – Matthew Phillips||#11 – Jon Gillies|
|#10 – Morgan Klimchuk||#9 – Andrew Mangiapane|
|#8 – Dillon Dube||#7 – Spencer Foo|