The Calgary Flames got off to a rather slow start to their season. Expected to contend by many before the year began – including their general manager Brad Treliving, who spent big to upgrade their roster over the summer – the Flames were a flat group as the 2017-18 campaign began.
But the Flames began turning their season around at the end of October, as some roster moves resulted in some lineup shuffling that more adequately slotted players in their appropriate positions. While it’s a bit of a stretch to say he saved their season, the October recall of prospect Mark Jankowski went a long way towards fixing the Flames.
A Long Path To the Pros
Jankowski is arguably the most controversial first round selection in Flames history. Selected at 21st overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, his selection was the subject of much fanbase hand-wringing for two main reasons:
- Having lost their second round pick in a trade at the prior draft that sent Robyn Regehr and Ales Kotalik to Buffalo, the Flames traded down from 14th overall to 21st overall – bypassing the highly-touted Zemgus Girgensens – to recoup that lost second rounder.
- Once they traded down, they bypassed the highly-touted Olli Maatta in favour of the fairly unknown Jankowski.
Girgensens turned pro the following season and, after a year in the AHL, went straight to the NHL. Maatta spent a second season in the OHL, then went straight to the NHL.
I’m fascinated about what Mark Jankowski will be three years from now. Already big, strong and with a defensive game that is getting better and better. Plays both sides of special teams, those soft mitts. One thing we’ve all learned is it would be foolish to put a ceiling on him.
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) January 12, 2018
Jankowski spent the four seasons following the draft in the NCAA with the Providence College Friars, winning a national championship as a junior. He went pro in 2016-17, four years after being drafted, and established himself as a strong AHL center. He had a strong camp with the Flames in 2017 and was one of the final cuts. He formed the top line in the AHL with Stockton teammates Andrew Mangiapane and Garnet Hathaway, landing himself at the top of the AHL’s scoring race. That was enough to earn him a recall to the Flames.
Related: Flames Go All-In Thanks to Prospect Depth
The Flames Before Jankowski
Jankowski was recalled on Oct. 23. The Flames had a 4-4-0 record.
Before Jankowski arrived, the forward lines were a bit uneven. The first line featured Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Micheal Ferland. The second line featured Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. The third line featured Kris Versteeg, Sam Bennett and one of Curtis Lazar, Jaromir Jagr or Troy Brouwer. The fourth line was typically a mixture of whoever was left over.
The challenge for the Flames without Jankowski primarily rested with the placement of Sam Bennett. As previously noted, Bennett struggled as a center. His line tended not to generate much offense and occasionally struggled to get out of their own zone. The fourth line was similarly challenged.
The Flames Since Jankowski
The top six is unchanged, but the big changes have been seen in the bottom six. With Bennett moved to the wing and Jankowski able to replicate his AHL performance – driving play, playing responsible 200-foot hockey and eventually generating scoring chances – the Flames suddenly had three lines that could contribute offense and not be a defensive liability. Bennett and Jankowski played almost exclusively with Jagr and, after Jagr’s injury, Hathaway. Bennett moving to the wing also bumped Versteeg down to the fourth line, which had the effect of improving that group until Versteeg’s hip injury.
Jankowski has gradually earned power play and penalty kill time, which has also served to improve both units. Overall, his addition has helped improve the slotting of the forwards and pushed everybody into a more suitable spot.
A Look Ahead
Jankowski’s arrival has improved the team and cemented the top three lines, but it’s also allowed the club to turn some attention towards improving their fourth line. The club waived Freddie Hamilton with an eye towards improving the fourth line by integrating more players from Stockton. It’s definitely a work in progress, but Jankowski’s NHL arrival has seemingly begun a domino effect that’s rippled through the rest of the Flames lineup.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.