If there was any concern over how Mark Jankowski would react to starting the season with the Calgary Flames’ AHL affiliate Stockton Heat, he’s done his part to cast it aside.
Far from sulking, Jankowski has taken the demotion in stride and run with it. In three games with the Heat, Jankowski leads the team in scoring with five points (four goals and one assist) and has been a shot generation machine. He has at least one point in each of the three games he’s played.
Jankowski, Theodore and Pulkkinen all have 5 pts already… None of those 6 skaters has less than 2 pts.
— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) October 9, 2017
Speaking to Sportsnet 960 after reassigning Jankowski, Flames general manager Brad Treliving admitted that he’s “ready to play,” adding that he just has to wait for an opportunity. If Jankowski keeps this up, though, we’re going to reach a point where Treliving will have to create that opportunity.
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) October 15, 2017
If you were fortunate enough to catch Jankowski play this Saturday, it was clear each time he had the puck on his stick how far ahead of the competition he is. His anticipation with the puck and his positioning away from it were evident on several occasions.
Mark Jankowski's 4th goal of the year to make it 1-0 pic.twitter.com/IMqFRcyKw7
— Stockton Heat (@AHLHeat) October 15, 2017
The goal was something. Jankowski finds a hole in the defensive zone coverage and gets to the side of the net untouched, burying his own rebound. What you might not have noticed from afar, though, was just how easy it would’ve been for Jankowski to add to his point totals with some of his creative setups for his linemates. With a little added luck, Jankowski could’ve left that game with three points.
Highlights from last night's 4-0 win over defending Calder Cup Champs, Grand Rapids. 36 saves for Rittich pic.twitter.com/6jfdnLmgEV
— Stockton Heat (@AHLHeat) October 15, 2017
And while it might be easy to scoff at Jankowski’s start and cry small sample for all to hear, that’s a disservice to the 23-year-old pivot who’s done nothing but earn his keep since turning professional.
As a first-year professional, Jankowski led the Heat in points last season with 56 (27 goals and 29 assists) in 64 games. He followed that up by dominating the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, before bringing the hot hand to Calgary Flames main camp. In five preseason matches, Jankowski had three goals.
When we view Jankowski’s last season through the pGPS (Prospect Graduation Probabilities System) metric, developed by Jeremy Davis to use historical comparables based on production and stature to draw an expected rate of success and NHL production, he checks out as having a gaudy 57.7% Exp. Success rate. Players in Jankowski’s cohort have an Exp. Points per 82 games of about 36, which checks out as roughly first line output.
The Flames knew when they took Jankowski in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft that he was going to be a five-year project. That’s the timeline I’ve heard that then-assistant general manager John Weisbrod, who was among the most vocal members of the Flames front office in favour of that pick, had in mind.
They’re now in year five of Jankowski’s development, and he’s proven ready to hit on that mark. All that stands in the way is a logjam at the bottom of the Flames lineup.
Tanner Glass and Freddie Hamilton, specifically, stand in Jankowski’s way. Sending down either of the two means hoping they clear waivers. The obvious candidate is Glass, who the Flames signed to a professional tryout ahead of the preseason, before coming to terms on a one-year deal at just above the league minimum.
That shouldn’t be as difficult an obstacle to clear as the Flames have made it. This isn’t a team that desperately needs Glass’ toughness, and given that his previous employer, the New York Rangers, was able to send him through waivers on multiple occasions in years past, I can’t imagine it will be any more difficult for the Flames.
The benefits should be so plain for all to see. Jankowski is 23 and given everything we’ve learned in the public sphere about player aging curves, right about to enter his prime physical years. He’s still on an entry-level contract, too. Contending teams like the Flames need affordable scoring depth at the bottom of their lineup, and in Jankowski, it’s more likely than not that they have one at their disposal.
It seems an inevitability that, at some point, Jankowski is going to land with the Flames this season. If he continues on his torrid pace with the Heat, he could force their hand sooner than later.
There is an argument, though, that waiting might not be in the Flames’ best interests. Calgary is a middle of the pack team by goal generation with top of the league aspirations. Every little bit helps.