Mark Jankowski has the patience of a saint and the hands of a surgeon.
Now he’s also, finally, got an NHL job.
Five years after being drafted in the first round out of high school, the 23-year-old centre was recalled by the Flames Monday due to an injury to Jaromir Jagr.
Carrying the momentum he gained in training camp when the 6-foot-4, 208-pound college star scored three goals in five NHL pre-season games, he scored five times and added three assists in six outings with the AHL’s Stockton Heat.
It was time.
“I felt really confident after the camp I had and going down I just kind of continued that through the first games of the season,” said Jankowski, admitting he’s never been more sure of himself as a player.
“Obviously I thought I had a pretty good camp up in Calgary and then when I got sent down it was pretty frustrating. Any time you get sent down you’re pretty pissed off, so I went down and just wanted to prove that I belong up in Calgary. I just focused on trying to be the best player on the ice at all times.”
Through four years at Providence College, Jankowski trusted in the Flames’ plan for him, developing steadily as he prepped for a time like this.
Despite his patience he admits he was equal parts surprised and angry when the Flames didn’t reward his solid camp with an opening day roster spot.
“Maybe a little bit,” he said.
“I know there’s a business side to it and guys have to go through waivers and stuff like that. Any time you get sent down to the minors there are obviously some things to work on in your game. So I took all that to heart and tried to work on all aspects to my game. I have to keep getting better – I can’t be thinking, ‘I should be up there right now and I’m the best I’ll ever be.
“(GM Brad Treliving) said, ‘When you go down there, keep trying to improve and be one of the best players in the league and when your shot does come you can make your mark and stay.”
Jankowski joined the Flames in Calgary Monday morning and will likely get that chance to play Tuesday in Nashville, much to the delight of Calgary hockey fans who have been calling for Jankowski’s just rewards.
More to the point, fans are thrilled the team now has a chance to right some wrongs by rewarding Jankowski with a third-line centre gig, bumping Sam Bennett to the wing.
With no points and just five shots on goal in eight games, Bennett is proving once again he’s not yet capable of handling all the responsibilities that come with playing up the middle. His penchant for penalties has made him a liability. His confidence is shot.
A move to the wing would simplify his game and give him a chance to regain the scoring touch he had in junior, where he was good enough to be drafted fourth overall.
More than anything this Flames team needs a shakeup like this, as the listless team is fortunate to be 4-4, thanks only to the brilliance of goalie Mike Smith early on.
Jankowski’s refreshing attitude, size, skill and confidence can only help this team as it embarks on a two-game trip to Nashville and St. Louis.
“I’ve definitely been pretty patient throughout the process,” said Jankowski, who was rewarded for a 27-goal effort as an AHL rookie last year with a one-game gig with the Flames late last season.
“Everyone develops differently and I knew if I just kept on developing and working hard that my time would come.”