Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Jankowski one of many Flames with undefined roles this season

The Calgary Flames enter the 2019-20 season with a number of undefined roles, which is a good thing. Thanks to the emergence and/or addition of players like Rasmus Andersson, Derek Ryan, Andrew Mangiapane and Matthew Tkachuk, a few NHL regulars find themselves fighting for ice time. It’s a good problem to have, but it has players like Mark Jankowski and Michael Stone unsure of where exactly they fit on the Flames.

Mark Jankowski

Jankowski started last season as Calgary’s number three centre. By the end of February, though, he’d been overtaken by Derek Ryan and was the clear number four. In the final two months of the season and into the playoffs, Ryan saw more even strength ice time and more difficult minutes than Jankowski and was the vastly superior player.

Mark Jankowski Derek Ryan
79 51.5 50.6 52.7 81 54.6 56.9 46.3

While Jankowski rarely hurt the team, he didn’t move the needle on a consistent basis, specifically at five-on-five. What helped keep Jankowski in the lineup was his strong work on the penalty kill; he averaged 1:57 of PK time during the regular season and finished with five shorthanded goals.

Entering his third full season, Jankowski is no longer a lock for an everyday role. With the team focused on winning now, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, and Ryan are all ahead of him on the depth chart with Dillon Dube knocking on the door. Furthermore, Jankowski was part of a trade that almost happened earlier this summer with Toronto, which shows you he’s not untouchable.

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Because he played four years at Providence College, Jankowski is no longer young by NHL standards. He’ll turn 25 in September, which is when many players start to enter “is what he is” territory. Jankowski’s challenge is to prove he needs to be in the everyday lineup, whether it be with improved five-on-five play or continued great PK work. Regardless, this season looms large for Jankowski’s future with the Flames and in the league.

Michael Stone

When Calgary acquired Stone prior to the 2017 trade deadline, he instantly became a mainstay on the team’s blueline. Stone helped the team clinch a playoff spot that season and played all 82 games the following campaign. Last year took a different turn, though; Stone was passed on the depth chart and ran into a major medical problem that effectively ended his season. An off-season of training will certainly help.

Stone dressed for the Flames in the first ten games last season before becoming a victim of the numbers game. Andersson quickly proved he brought more to the table, and Stone started an extended stretch in the press box when Travis Hamonic returned from injury in late October. Prior to being diagnosed with a blood clot on Nov. 22, Stone dressed just once in a span of 12 games.

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14 51.7 39.5 54.4

Other than three meaningless appearances late in the season, Stone’s play was on par with the rest of his time in Calgary. He was physical and responsible defensively but didn’t help drive play or generate much offence. In fairness, that’s not what Stone is; steady and strong physical is what he brings to the table.

Unfortunately, when the choice is between Stone and Andersson, the latter is going to win out. Andersson is a superior skater, puck mover, and has more offensive upside, while the defensive comparison is a wash. If the Flames’ blueline consists of the same personnel next season, Stone will likely be sitting more often than not again.

There is one caveat for Stone, and that’s the future of TJ Brodie. Also linked to the Leafs in that aforementioned failed trade, many believe Brodie will be playing elsewhere to start next season. If that’s the case, Andersson probably starts on the right side with Mark Giordano and leaves an open spot. If that happens and Stone has a strong training camp, regular NHL work in Calgary could still be in the cards.

Sam Bennett

We won’t spend as much time on Bennett, mainly because we wrote about him earlier this week. While I believe Bennett’s role is becoming more defined, his play this season will go a long way to define whether the middle six is his permanent slot or if more upside remains.

The other thing that remains in the ether is what position suits Bennett best. I believe Bennett is far more effective on the wing where the role of primary offensive puck carrier is off his shoulders. The organization still holds out hope he can develop into an NHL centre, which is what they drafted him as in 2014. From what I’ve seen in four seasons, though, I question whether he thinks the game at a high enough level to succeed down the middle.

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I like Bennett and I think he has a role on the Flames, even if it’s not the one many hoped when he was drafted five years ago. With a new contract pending, Bennett will likely remain cost effective and should have a chance to continue to cement his role as a hard-nosed, physical winger.

Austin Czarnik

Year one in Calgary was an up and down one for Czarnik after signing in free agency last summer. After playing in the team’s first six games, Czarnik dressed for just 23 of the team’s next 51 games and struggled to effect the game as a bottom six winger. Czarnik finished the season with 25 straight appearances but only saw one playoff game against the Avalanche. I think the best word to use when describing Czarnik’s first season with the Flames is inconsistent.

54 54.9 46.9 50.7

Czarnik has an opportunity in front of him knowing the team is looking for more scoring pop off the wing. If Calgary ends up dealing Michael Frolik to free up cap space, there’s an even better chance for Czarnik. That said, the likes of Mangiapane and Dube will be right there fighting for the same spot.

Czarnik was a high scoring winger in the American League playing in a top six role. His challenge is translating that success to a bottom six slot in the NHL, which is much easier said that done. If Czarnik can do that more consistently early in the season, he’ll have a chance to play on a nightly basis. If not, there are plenty of younger forwards ready to leapfrog him on the depth chart.

  • oddclod

    Have to disagree. Janks will be 3rd line and penalty kill, with Derek Ryan 3rd line A1. Both lines will compete for ice time. I assume Janks and Mangiapane will renew their familiarity, and Ryan will clean up the bottom of the hitting order.

    I noticed for the first time Janks mucked it up sadly it was game 5 of the playoff exit, but he realized that he was an imposing figure and was able to face wash an opponent and have his way physically so I hope to see more from this NHL bloodline youth as he gets encouragement from his uncle over the summer on what it means to be a sizable depth forward.

  • Luter 1

    All guys that need to come in with a different attitude to this season. Bennett needs to continue to play his physical game but really has to figure out some chemistry with other players to move to the next level. Jankowski better come in with more muscle and start using it because i was a fan but was very disappointed in his slippage at year end and no-hit play of his. Czarnik needs to get in on the forecheck harder, get his nose dirty and use his shot. Lastly Stone should be pasting guys and punishing lucky loos hanging around the front of our net. If he’s not willing to do that and the odd scrap, send him to the minors because his skating is minor league.

    • Kevin R

      We have seen the Bennett & Janko combo for 2 years now & they have had spurts but have not shown that amazing chemistry we all were hoping for. Time to move on from this. I have a few scenarios I wouldnt mind seeing:
      Opt 1: Gaudreau played RW in College & many have commented in the past that perhaps we should shift him to RW. Doing that, we can move Bennett up to LW with Gaudreau & Monahan. We need to get Benny playing with talent (after we get him signed to a 4-5 year deal at 3.2mill of course :->). Then we shift Lindholm down to RW with Backlund & Tkachuk.

      Option 2: Balzammon mentioned Bennetts stats are better when he played centre. Maybe its time. Move Bennett up to centre with Tkachuk & move Lindholm down on the RW so we have 2 centres. Backlund moves to the 3rd line C. Now this would mean we would need to have Neal or Magpie or whoever audition for the top line RW. However, that makes Janko expendable. Perhaps Brodie & Janko can score us that RW or LW(if Gaudreau moves to RW). Would Montreal do a Gallaghr for Brodie & Janko? How about Zucker & a pick(2nd) for Janko & Brodie?

      Just spitballing.

      • Herringchoker1971

        I like option 2 although again, I will support Janko because I want to see him on Backlunds wing. I believe he would play more offensively in that situation and could use his big body on the cycle better. I don’t see any Kadri like deals presenting themselves this offseason. I think we will buy out Stone and thats it. I can see an in season hockey trade happening when Tre gets some leverage once Chucky is signed and the cap crunch is averted. Plus the more I think about it, we should hold on to Frolik until we see what Neal is this season.

  • Skylardog

    Stone is better than we give him credit as being but with his contract ending we need to get him in the lineup and prove he is healthy so he can be moved out at the deadline.

    If dube sits and Czar plays I will lose my mind. Package him up for something.

  • Baceda

    Funny, who would’ve guessed when we drafted Bennett 4th overall, shortly after he failed to do a single pull-up at the draft combine, that he would end up being our resident tough guy

      • Baceda

        🙄 yeah, I didn’t bother mentioning the why, because that’s common knowledge at this point.
        However at the time of the draft, which is the time I was referring to, his shoulder injury was not known.

  • Herringchoker1971

    I agree with everything in this article. I love Bennett and Janko and have defended both. Obviously I’m not ok with the same, same though (taking into account there cap hit of course). These guys need to take a step up and start pushing out Backlund and Frolik. Anything less than that this season is a failure in my opinion. There is no recovering from Gully’s coaching. There is no Sophmore jinx. Neal will be on a short leash so he better perform. This is a big season for some of these guys. If they rise to the occasion, boys we are in for a fun season. If they are same, same we will be still very good but, not as dominate as we could be. So I continue to believe and we’ll see by the all star game what we have.

  • MDG1600

    IMHO it is up to Janko to define a role for himself. He always looks afraid to make a mistake as if he still isn’t sure he belongs. That needs to change or it will be a self fulfilling prophesy.