Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Yakking with Jankowski: Pro Wannabe, National Champion and Face-off Aficionado

In September when many Flames prospects in town for development camp will return for rookie camp, Mark Jankowski will not be among them.

Instead, Calgary's 2012 first round pick will be back on campus at Providence College, making his way to class with his backpack slung over his shoulder.

But he sure wanted to make that return visit.

Following the lead of Johnny Gaudreau last year, who left Boston College after three years, and his Friars teammate Jon Gillies, who turned pro this summer after three years of college, Jankowski also looked into bypassing his final year and turning pro.


Broaching the Question: Is it Time?

"After the season, we had a few conversations about how the year went, how I felt I progressed as the season went on, what did I want to do for next year and what they think would be best," Jankowski said.

The discussions involved Calgary GM Brad Treliving and his management team as well as Jankowski's adviser and his family.

"We had good talks and in the end, they thought it was best for me to come back for my senior year, get my degree and just try and have that full year where we've got the target on our back," Jankowski said. "I think it's going to be a good challenge for us and for me personally and I'm really looking forward to it."

While it isn't necessarily what he wanted, Jankowski is on-board with the decision and sees the benefits.

"It's every kid's dream to sign an NHL contract and play in the NHL but you have to be level-headed and you've got to know what is best for you," said the personable native of St. Catherines, Ontario. "You don't want to jump the gun too quick. No one gets hurt by taking a little bit longer or spending another year. It can only help you so that's a big reason why I'm going back for my senior year.

"A little bit more development and being the No. 1 guy there (key forwards not returning include Noel Acciari and Ross Mauermann) and me just being able to play in all roles and all situations, it's going to be really good for my development."

It does seem like a wise decision. While he turns 21 in September and although 19 of the 20 players chosen ahead of him have already made their NHL debut, he's still young. Heck, with the acne on his face, he looks more like 16.


Appreciative of the Support

Jankowski says it's a very reassuring feeling to know that despite being drafted by Jay Feaster and the Flames old management regime, Treliving has been very upfront in making him feel valued and not forgotten.

"Mr. Treliving and his staff have been unbelievable," Jankowski said. "Last year at development camp when we had our one-on-one meetings, he just said we have a lot of faith in you. We know you might be feeling a little uneasy because there was a different staff but don't worry about that at all. We've seen you and we like you."


Reflecting on a National Championship

If you don't follow NCAA hockey, you will have no idea of the hype that accompanies the 16-team year-end tournament. Then, when you get down to the Frozen Four and the magnitude of that, think Final Four of March Madness, only on ice.

"Our coach was trying to get us to focus on the game like it's just another game, but then you get there and it's hard to think it's just another game, because it's the huge spectacle," said Jankowski. "You have a full day of interviews. There is tons of TV, newspaper, radio, ESPN -- (John) Buccigross and (Barry) Melrose are there, and all that stuff. You have to get those out of the way the first few days so then when game time comes around, it's business."

It may be "business" come game day but with a healthy dose of added flair. For example, the long walk on the red carpet walking into the arena.

"You walk for about a minute down the red carpet. People are lined up everywhere. You have your headphones in, just looking straight -- you don't smile or anything -- but then you see a little kid and you give them a high-5," said Jankowski, with a chuckle.

Finally, you take to the ice, which this year was the TD Garden in the college hockey hotbed of Boston.

"It's unbelievable walking out on that ice and seeing a jam-packed NHL building cheering for you. It's a cool feeling."

Capping its Cinderella run in coming from one of the lowest seeds in the 16-team tournament, Providence won the championship game 2-1 over Boston University and Flames defence prospect Brandon Hickey.

"A great feeling, " said Jankowski. "It's right up there. That and being drafted are the two best achievements of my hockey career, for sure."

Icing on the cake was being named to the NCAA Frozen Four's All-Tournament team. Also on that team? Jack Eichel.

"A great personal achievement but the ultimate goal was that national championship."


Another Year, More Strides Taken

On the surface, if one hadn't actually watched PC play all year, a look at Jankowski's goals and assists might suggest he plateaued in season three, if not regressed.

After going 13-12-25 in 39 games in year two, his offensive production last year was 8-19-27 in 37 games. Five less goals, two more points, basically a wash to the uneducated eye.

Jankowski sees 2014-15 in a much different light.

"It was another year, where I got better as the year went on and that's the most important thing," Jankowski said.  "I played my best hockey at the end when the games meant the most. In the tournament and the Frozen Four, scored a couple big goals and played a good overall game."

Longtime coach Nate Leaman preaches strong defensive play at PC and this was an area Jankowski says he's grown in.

"The main thing is trying to play a good overall game. Start from the d-zone, work out into the neutral zone and the o-zone. That's one part of my game over the last three years that has really developed," Jankowski said. "I pride myself on being good defensively and being someone that my coach can rely in every situation, down by a goal late in the game, up by a goal trying to protect the lead, penalty kill, power play, everything."


Stellar at the Dot

Face-offs is another area of strength for Jankowski.

"It's something I get better at every year. Our coaching staff takes big pride in our face-offs. All four of our centres did well in face-offs and we were all near the top of the league," he said.

The best of the best was Jankowski, who topped the team and ranked second in all of Hockey East at 58.1 percent.

Considering the Flames finished 26th in that category at 47.4 percent last season, that number sure is a sight for sore eyes.

"It's something that I'm pretty good at and it's something I take pride in. Down by a goal late in the game, if there's a face-off, our coach can rely on me doing that or with a few seconds left in our zone, he can rely on me to win a big face-off," he said. "Even on the power play. Every pp starts in the o-zone now so if you lose that draw and they shoot it down the ice, that's 20 seconds off the clock. Face-offs are a big part of the game."


His Farewell Tour

As the 6-foot-3, 190 pounder prepares to embark on his final season of college hockey, much like what the scenario was for Bill Arnold, who played his full four years of school, there is no flight risk concerns at all with Jankowski.

He may not have nearly the same cachet as a guy like Gaudreau -- and you'll recall the 'will he or won't he sign?' angst that hovered around him for so long. But still, waiting until August 15 next summer and becoming a free agent is an option open to him just like how Kevin Hayes walked away from the Chicago Blackhawks last summer.

However, you just can't see that happening as the sincere Jankowski has always had nothing but good things to say about the Flames.

"I couldn't be any happier to be in Calgary. It's a great organization and a great city and I'm glad to be here," he said as his fourth development camp got going.

As for fears about how long he's taking to develop, that was always going to be the case if you remember back to comments made by Flames management on draft day when assistant GM John Weisbrod declared him the second coming of Joe Nieuwendyk.

“Everyone’s different. Everyone develops at their own pace," said Jankowski. "From day one, every day you’re trying to get a little bit better no matter what you do. In the way you eat, how you sleep, how you train, how you practice. Every day I’m just trying to get a little bit better. Tune out everything else and just worry about myself."

There's no certainties he will be an NHL player but if you look at where he's at, the success his team has had and the integral role he played in that success, there's also no certainties he won't make it to the NHL either.



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8 comments:

  1. Ever since this kid was drafted, the line of doubters has been long - and they have been loud. Would love to see him prove them all wrong.

    And while I'm thankful for the majority of what Feaster did during his time here - he sure didn't do Jankowski any favors with his 'Carnac The Magnificent'- like predictions.

    G

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    1. They certainly didn't set him up for success but pumping up the expectations for fans. The longer he stays under the radar at this point, probably the better off he is. The spotlight will return, no need to rush it.

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    2. They certainly didn't set him up for success but pumping up the expectations for fans. The longer he stays under the radar at this point, probably the better off he is. The spotlight will return, no need to rush it.

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  2. Apparently, Jankowski impressed during today's scrimmage. Great to hear.

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    1. Was very good. It's only July and you have to take all performances with a grain of salt but you'd rather him stand out positively than negatively.

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    2. Was very good. It's only July and you have to take all performances with a grain of salt but you'd rather him stand out positively than negatively.

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  3. Did not realize that he is from my home town, St. Catherines! WOO!

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    1. It's quite the hockey family he's from. His uncle is in charge of player personnel for Hockey Canada. His brother was draft eligible this year but went undrafted. His great uncle is hall-of-famer Red Kelly.

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