Mark Jankowski’s immediate NHL future seems to be the biggest conversation topic among Calgary Flames fans right now. I certainly believe keeping Jankowski in the NHL is the best move for all parties involved, but I can’t tell you I’m overly confident that’ll end up happening. For a variety of different reasons, though, keeping Jankowski with the Flames is the team’s best play here.
This is a somewhat pressing issue thanks to the pending return of Jaromir Jagr. Eligible to come off IR at anytime, all signs seem to point to a Thursday return for Jagr, and if not then at some point during this seven-game home stand. For that to happen, Calgary will have to make room for him on the active roster. In analyzing why Jankowski shouldn’t be the odd man out, despite his waiver exempt status, I came at it from a few different angles.
Through four games of his most recent recall, Jankowski is still looking for his first NHL point. With most of his time spent with Sam Bennett and Curtis Lazar on a line, Jankowski has looked decent but not remarkable at the highest level. The most important thing here is that, unlike plenty of other AHL call-ups, Jankowski hasn’t looked out of place playing in the NHL.
Head coach Glen Gulutzan has certainly tailored Jankowski’s minutes so as not to throw him to the wolves. He’s mostly been matched against opposing third and fourth lines and fed a steady dose of offensive zone starts. In saying that, though, at least Jankowski has done a passable with what he’s been given to work with.
From a possession standpoint, Janowski has been average in relation to how many offensive starts he’s seen. On the bright side, though, it’s not like he’s getting eaten for lunch, either. Matched up against the likes of Lars Eller, Kyle Brodziak, and Frederick Gaudreau, Jankowski has won the on-ice shot attempt battle more often than not. That’s to be expected relative to his usage, but at least he’s not underwater. At five-on-five, Jankowski’s high danger scoring chance for and against ratio is 6-2, which also gets the job done.
While it’s true Jankowski hasn’t been spectacular in his four games this season, a little context is needed when evaluating his place on the Flames. Specifically, it’s important to compare Jankowski to the other candidates Calgary would consider sending to the American League to make room for Jagr.
Realistically, those candidates would be Freddie Hamilton, Tanner Glass, Curtis Lazar, and Matt Stajan. You can yell “Troy Brouwer” all you want at your screen, but it’s not going to happen; his $4.5 million cap hit ensures that. The same is true for Bennett, as his waiver status and 2014 draft position render an AHL assignment totally unrealistic. We’re left, then, with a group of four.
I’ll be honest, I don’t think Stajan is a realistic possibility, either. His cap hit isn’t that much lower than Brouwer’s, so the financial/business component still likely plays a part. On top of that, Stajan hasn’t been anywhere near as ineffective as many have suggested. He’s still a useful fourth line centre and carries a lot of weight in the locker room, so don’t expect to see his name on waivers anytime soon.
On merit, I think you can make a strong argument Jankowski deserves to be in Calgary over Hamilton, Glass, and Lazar, though. The Flames have played 12 games this season and Hamilton has played in just two of them, meaning Jankowski has already played more than he has. As such, it seems hard to understand how Hamilton would be prioritized in this situation, even if he is a decent 13th/14th forward.
I know we all love Lazar’s smile, attitude, and work ethic, but he’s just not an effective player right now. Lazar’s two-way game hasn’t been good, he’s not producing, and Gulutzan has used him up and down the depth chart without finding a fit. I know Calgary gave up a second round pick to acquire Lazar in March and there’s a small risk of losing him on waivers, but that shouldn’t be a determining factor.
And then there’s Glass who truly is what he is, despite how much I despise that saying. He’s a negative possession player who, at 33, has no upside. In saying that, though, he hasn’t been terrible for what he’s been asked to do. The Flames signed him to add to the physical side of their game and he’s done that in a fourth line role, and the team hasn’t been crushed with him on the ice.
From a strict development standpoint, I honestly think Jankowski is just as well served playing in the NHL as he is in Stockton. Yes, he’s going to play more, and in more situations, with the Heat, but there’s also the matter of whether Jankowski has outgrown the AHL. To me, he’s proven everything he needs to in the minors: he excels there and scores at a high rate.
At the same time, though, I’ve had more than one NHL executive tell me the league can “ruin as many young players as it helps”. In Jankowski’s case, though, we’re not talking about a 19- or 20-year-old player coming out of the CHL. He’s 23, has four years of NCAA hockey and a full year of pro under his belt, so I don’t think playing bottom six minutes in the NHL is going to stunt him.
If you believe everything we’ve heard from the Flames this year, this is a team wanting to win now. If that’s the case, shouldn’t the number one priority be icing the best possible lineup on a nightly basis? And, if the answer to that question is yes, then Jankowski belongs on the NHL roster even after Jagr returns.
Even pushing the development conversation to the side, Jankowski is an upgrade on players like Hamilton and Lazar right now. For a team looking to win, that should be enough to make this an easy decision. The fact it’s likely the best thing for Jankowski just makes his argument to stay even more convincing.