Looking back, the 2012 NHL Entry Draft was one of the weaker draft classes of all-time, with many high picks not turning out like they were expected. Of course, that draft is now infamously remembered by the Edmonton Oilers selecting Nail Yakupov first overall. Yakupov, of course, has turned out to be one of the biggest draft busts of all-time. However, at the time of the draft, the most bizarre pick in the first round was when the Calgary Flames selected Mark Jankowski 21st overall.
This pick was strange for many reasons. The main being that Jankowski likely would have still been available at a much later pick. In the final draft rankings for the 2012 draft, NHL Central Scouting had him pegged as the 43rd North American skater. Once you add in European skaters along with goaltenders, he may not have even cracked the top 60. He was also very unknown at the time, as he had spent his season playing high school hockey. To this day, he is the highest picked Canadian high school player in the history of the draft.
As a result of this off the board pick, there was a ton of pressure from the get go on Jankowski as Flames fans were furious the team took a player they did not feel was going to be able to help the team. Then general manager Jay Feaster certainly did not help with that pressure, as he boasted that the young centerman would be viewed as the best player in the draft 10 years down the road.
Not the Case
Although it has not quite been 10 years since, there is absolutely zero chance Jankowski will be looked at as the top player in this draft class in two years. Despite this draft having many busts, there are still many star players such as Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly, Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg, and Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
This isn’t meant to rip on Jankowski, as the now 25-year-old has become a full-time NHL player over the last three seasons, having appeared in 208 regular season games. While he hasn’t become the player Feaster believed he would, he has turned out better than many fans and others around the game expected.
Road to the NHL
After being drafted, Jankowski began his first season with Providence College. While he was able to post an incredible 87 points the season prior in high school hockey, he had a much more humbling season with Providence, putting up just 7 goals and 18 points in 34 games. While his next two seasons did show improvement, his combined 52 points in a total of 75 games had many questioning whether or not he would ever be able to make it to the NHL level.
His fourth and final season at Providence was the year that script began to change. As a 21-year-old, Jankowski led the team in scoring with 15 goals and 40 points in 38 games. Once his team’s season had ended, he got his first taste of professional hockey, appearing in eight games with the Stockton Heat. For the first time since being drafted, he was beginning to give Flames fans reason to be excited, as he put up six points in that short stint.
The next season, 2016-17, the Flames decided to have Jankowski spend the entire season in Stockton to help further his development. Once again, he showed off his high-end skill, leading the team in scoring with 27 goals and 56 points in 64 games. He also had his first NHL call up that season, where he appeared in one game but failed to get on the scoresheet. Regardless, it was starting to look like he had a strong shot to become a top-six NHL forward in the near future.
The 2017-18 season saw Jankowski become a full-time NHL player. He appeared in 72 games that season. While his 25 points certainly didn’t blow anyone away, he was able to put up a solid 17 goals. Many expected the then 23-year-old to continue to build off of that season, and continue to put up goals for the Flames.
However, his second season turned out to be a near repeat of his rookie year. While he increased his point total from 25 to 32, he also played in 79 games, which was 7 more than the season prior. On top of that, his goal total also dipped from 17 to 14. To make matters even worse, he had zero points in five playoff games when the Avalanche knocked out the Flames in a first-round upset. By this point, many had started to sour on the former first rounder. He certainly had a lot to prove heading into the 2019-20 season.
Any supporters Jankowski had coming into this past season are likely gone by now. The 25-year-old needed a big year as he is set to become a restricted free agent, and instead he laid an egg. Through the first 37 games of the season, he found himself in the worst slump of his career with zero goals and just one helper. (from ‘Flames centre Mark Jankowski’s scoring dry spell drags on,’ The Guardian, 01/14/2020) As a result of this slump, he found himself as a healthy scratch on many occasions.
When he was able to get in the lineup, he failed to get the trust from his coaching staff, as he averaged a career low 11:06 minutes in ice time per game. This was a fairly significant decrease from his rookie season where he averaged 13:21 per game. While he was able to pick up his play after his miserable start to the season, he still finished the season with a very disappointing total of 5 goals and 7 points in 56 games.
Future Up in the Air
The big question now is what does the future look like for Jankowski? As mentioned above, he will be a restricted free agent once this year’s postseason wraps up, as his current two-year deal paying him $1.675 million per season is set to expire. While it is possible, it seems like a long shot for the Flames to bring him back into the fold next year. With many other good up-and-coming prospects, it makes more sense to have one less contract and free up some cap space to give a younger player a shot.
Related: Reviewing the Bruins’ 2015 Draft
One good thing for Jankowski is that despite the rough season, he still has the playoffs coming up. With his limited ice time it won’t be easy, but if he is able to contribute for the Flames, it will certainly help change the narrative on him and his season. However, if he has another playoff performance like last year, there is a chance it ends not only his career as a Flame, but possibly as an NHL player.
Of course, it is very possible a team takes a chance on Jankowski still hoping he has some untapped potential. At 26 years old, it seems likely that he is what he is at this point, but maybe with some more ice time he still does have another level he can elevate his game to. It is also possible teams that lack secondary scoring view this season as a rough year and bring him in hoping he can provide what he did during his first two seasons in the league.
Whatever happens, everyone can likely agree that Jankowski’s time since being drafted as a Flame was certainly odd. From the second he was drafted, he had many doubting him, and that never completely went away. Despite that, he was still able to improve season after season and become an everyday NHL player, something he will hope to continue to do following this season. Even though he has faced pressure since the day he was drafted, there is no doubt this summer’s playoffs will be the most he has felt to this point in his hockey career.