By Kirk Luedeke
Sometimes, it pays to fly under the radar. Just ask Providence College recruit and 2012 NHL Entry Draft riser Mark Jankowski.
|High-scoring forward Mark Jankowski dominated the competition while at Stanstead College. (Photo courtesy of Stanstead College)|
The talented centerman from Dundas, Ontario (near Hamilton) is a late-bloomer who wasn’t even drafted in the OHL Priority Selection until this past spring, two years after being eligible. Now, the 6-feet-2, 175-pounder is looking at a solid position somewhere in the top-60 of the NHL lottery in Pittsburgh June 22-23.
The book on Jankowski is that he’s a point-producing machine for little Stanstead College, a Quebec boarding school, thanks to his high-end hockey sense and rapidly developing skill set. A rangy skater with a long, smooth stride and sublime on-ice vision, Jankowski turned heads in March at the Spring Beantown Classic showcase in Marlboro, Mass.
“Playing in the Beantown was definitely a nice test for me,” Jankowski told New England Hockey Journal. “When I played at Stanstead, the competition wasn’t the greatest (as opposed to major junior hockey), so I think I showed that I can play effectively with some of the other draft eligible players who were maybe competing at a higher level.”
Skating on a line with Choate Rosemary Hall standout Ben Foster (Darien, Conn.), Jankowski gave opponents fits with his ability to generate quality scoring chances. He and Foster benefited from some instant chemistry, something that is rare in a tournament like the Beantown, where top players mostly from the New England area and Northeast are cobbled together.
“One of the main strengths of my game is my hockey sense,” Jankowski said. “It was a little challenging when they just put guys on teams like that, but I to think we established some chemistry together. Being able to work with other players like Ben (Foster) is something I pride myself on, so I think we both enjoyed having the chance to skate together and open things up a bit.”
One veteran NHL scout called it a “showcase of individual talent and skill more than anything else,” and while team play suffers in an event like that, talent hounds get a last opportunity to see some of the area’s top draft eligible players skate competitively one more time.
“Jankowski is an interesting player who is getting a lot of attention of late,” said one NHL scout in attendance at the showcase. “He dominated his competition (at Stanstead), but he was expected to do that. I think he did himself a favor skating in the Beantown and showing people how he looked with and against other kids in the draft.
“He’s a raw talent who skates well and is a good playmaker, but he has some bloodlines and with his size and skills, you can see how some are projecting a high ceiling for the kid. Is he a risk? Yes. But he’s also got some homerun potential, too.”
The talk surrounding Jankowski at the tourney was that both the OHL and QMJHL, namely Patrick Roy and the Quebec Remparts were hot after his services. Putting truth to the rumors, the Saginaw Spirit took him 134th overall in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection a month later. For his part, Jankowski maintained that his plan is to be a Friar.
“I was looking at Union College when coach (Nate) Leaman was there and I followed him when he went over to Providence,” Jankowski said. “He’s a terrific coach and I don’t think it’s an accident that Union made it to the Frozen Four even though he’s no longer there. I’m excited to play in the NCAA for Providence and am looking forward to the experience.”
However, he might yet opt for a stint in junior hockey to better prepare for the older, stronger players he’ll face in the NCAA.
“I need to get stronger,” Jankowski said without hesitation when asked what he needs to improve the most. “I’ve been working out hard to get ready for the (NHL) combine (with Toronto trainer Richard Clark). I’ve got to keep working to add strength and weight.”
Jankowski made the cut for 2012 by just two days, with a September 13, 1994 birthday, so he’ll also have that working in his favor when NHL teams will consider how high to take him. In addition to the promising talent, there is also an impressive family history in hockey to consider.
He’s the son of Len Jankowski, who played at Cornell University from 1978-82. His late grandfather Lou Jankowski played for Detroit and Chicago during an 18-season pro hockey career before becoming an NHL scout with the Blues, Capitals, Rangers, in addition to being with the Central Scouting Bureau. His great uncle is Hall of Fame defenseman Red Kelly, while his uncle, Ryan Jankowski, is a scout with the Montreal Canadiens after spending several seasons as assistant GM with the New York Islanders.
Like other kids who hit a rapid growth spurt in a short amount of time (Phillips Exeter star Matt Beattie is one), Jankowski was largely ignored by the OHL because he was under 6-feet and didn’t show off the high-end potential some are seeing with him now as a 53-goal scorer in 57 games at Stanstead.
"There was no denying his skill set, but he's a much more confident player now," Stanstead head coach James Rioux told the Montreal Gazette. "His size and reach are big assets. He's a two-way player who's good in his own zone. He's one of the best distributors of the puck I've seen, so he does make his teammates better. He's very unselfish, but he can also put the puck in the net."
Jankowski grew up rooting for the Buffalo Sabres, and said that his favorite player was Maxim Afinogenov. Yet, when asked if he plays like the former NHLer known more for his speed and electrifying moves, Jankowski begged off, naming a different Russian he tries to pattern his game after.
“I like to play the game more like Evgeni Malkin,” he said without a trace of arrogance. “I’m a big forward who likes to generate offense, but not necessarily a physical, power forward type.”
Nobody should expect another Penguins-type success story with Jankowski, but with his natural size and high ceiling, whoever lands him will have an intriguing project on their hands. Stranger things have happened, after all.
“I’m pretty excited,” he said of going to Malkin’s stomping grounds for the draft. “I spent all season trying to keep it in the back of my mind. Growing up, my goal was to play in the NHL, so it is going to be a pretty special moment.”