For a rebuilding franchise, nothing could be more demoralizing than losing a promising young prospect for nothing.
Especially a first rounder.
While it’s a rare circumstance indeed, the Calgary Flames are facing that possibility.
It’s been almost four years since Mark Jankowski was taken 21st overall by then-GM Jay Feaster as the highest Canadian high school draft pick ever.
By far the biggest head-scratcher of the day, Feaster’s assistant, John Weisbrod, defiantly insisted the lanky high school standout would be the next Joe Nieuwendyk.
It seemed a laughable prognosis and a curious risk, given few believed the Flames’ management group would be able to hang around long enough to see Jankowski flourish.
Admittedly a year to 18 months behind his peer group in terms of development at the time, everyone agreed Jankowski would be a project who would take many years to grow — physically and literally.
However, after years of essentially being written off by Flames fans, it turns out the kid’s a stud.
A legit NHL prospect.
One year after playing a big part in winning a U.S. College crown at Providence, Jankowski is a 21-year-old senior spearheading the Friars’ attempt to pull off a rare title defence. Wrapping up regular season play last weekend with two goals and two assists in a 6-0 win that clinched the school’s first Hockey East regular season title, Jankowski led the nation’s third-ranked team with 15 goals and 38 points in 34 games. It marked the fourth year in a row the St. Catharines, Ont., native increased his point totals.
However, the number Flames fans should really be excited about revolves around his weight. Despite being listed on most websites as being slightly above the 170 pounds he was drafted at, his almost-six-foot-four frame is now filled out with 200 pounds of athleticism.
“Getting bigger and stronger is obviously a big thing I’ve worked on all summer and with our strength coach,” said Jankowski, who is on a seven-game point streak.
“Getting to 220 pounds is doable – I want to keep getting bigger and stronger,” he said. “Going into development camp I’d like to be 205 pounds and then training camp 210.
“It just helps me protect the puck down low and helps being hard on the puck and taking it hard into the dirty areas where you’re going to get hacked and whacked.”
The big question in Calgary now is whether the development camp he’s hinting at will be in Calgary.
Jankowski has until Aug. 15 to sign a contract with Calgary or he’s a free agent.
Once considered a long shot, Jankowski now holds all the cards as he’s evolved into a player every NHL team would be interested in.
Destined to sign for the rookie maximum wherever he signs, his leverage allows him the rare opportunity to pick whichever organization he thinks fits best as Johnny Gaudreau’s college linemate Kevin Hayes did with the New York Rangers and as Justin Schultz did with the Edmonton Oilers.
The Flames had similar fears they’d lose Gaudreau had he gone back for his senior season at Boston College, which is why he had the leverage to sign after winning the Hobey Baker as a junior. It allowed him to burn one year of his three-year entry-level deal by playing in the Flames’ last game of the season.
“We feel confident that it will get done,” said Flames GM Brad Treliving when asked about signing Jankowski.
“I’m in touch with his advisor (Wade Arnott) but for now you let him go through his year.
“Fostering the relationship has been important and the goal of the development team is to continue to develop him,” Treliving said. “We talk to him basically daily and there’s a really good relationship. When he was drafted he was picked because of his skillset. He has really developed a two-way game. He’s put work into other things like faceoffs and play away from the puck.
“He’s not a guy who will likely step in right away. He still needs time.”
Surely the Flames’ patience and the way they’ve helped bring Jankowski along count for something.
A person close to the situation said the Flames have done a brilliant job communicating with and developing Jankowski, which should bode well for the future.
“It’s very good,” said Jankowski of the relationship.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of guys in the organization all year and keeping tabs. Mr. Treliving too. They’re a top-notch organization.”
He stays in touch with former Providence teammate Jon Gillies, a top Flames goalie prospect now in the AHL who had a season-ending injury in Stockton early in the season, who also raves about the organization.
So, straight up, will he sign with Calgary at season’s end?
“I haven’t really thought about that,” said Jankowski, striking fear into the hearts of Flames nation.
Should they be worried?
“I haven’t really been thinking about that too much,” he reiterated, refusing to tip his hand.
“I’ve been talking to some people and my focus is on my season. I’ll let it play out after that.”
Insisting he never lost confidence throughout his four years of college development, Jankowski’s hard work and skillset have him poised to be a solid pro next year.
“I think Mark can play any role that’s presented to him because I think he is a very complete player,” said Friars coach Nate Leaman when asked where he might fit in as an NHLer.
“Physically he’s just late blooming. He’s really developed with his strength and always had the offensive upside.
The big thing now is he’s using the size and he’s using it to finish plays. He has terrific vision and very good hands,” said Leaman.
“He’s responsible defensively. He’s one of our first penalty killers and he blocks shots. He’s assertive – every shift you notice him and he’s attacking.”
High praise from a man who also agrees Jankowski’s still developing.
Fact is, those in Calgary drooling for him to be the club’s third centre next season will almost certainly have to wait as a season or two in the minors is likely in order.
Assuming he signs in Calgary, that is.
“Have the Flames done a good job with him? Yes,” said a source close to the family.
“Have they given him any reason not to sign? No.
But he does have leverage and 29 other teams would line up to sign him.”
Flames fans are hoping such a line up won’t be necessary.