By the time a player reaches the stage where he has a legitimate shot of being a first-round pick in the NHL Draft, many hockey fans are already familiar with his name.
That's not necessarily the case for Mark Jankowski -- but he's determined his relative obscurity doesn't last very long.
Jankowski spent the past two seasons playing forward for Stanstead College, a prep school in Quebec's Eastern Townships that has produced a number of NCAA Division 1 players over the past several years, but never someone who was this prominent on the NHL radar.
"Everyone says if you're good enough, you'll get noticed," Jankowski told NHL.com. "I always thought I was good enough and eventually I'd get noticed."
He did, but he needed an extraordinary change in his body for it to happen.
"In all my years here, he's one of the most coachable kids I've had. His first year here, if I'd asked him to put his head through a concrete wall, he'd have done it. He's a kid that any coach would love to have." -- Stanstead coach James Rioux
Jankowski, a native of Dundas, Ontario, was a prolific scorer playing his Midget Triple-A hockey with the St. Catharines Junior Falcons. But his slight build at the time -- 5-foot-10 and a wiry 130 pounds -- caused him to be ignored in the Ontario Hockey League draft.
Looking for a route to college hockey, Jankowski decided to attend Stanstead after he hit it off with coach James Rioux when they met nearly three years ago. Since that meeting, Jankowski has grown five inches to stand 6-foot-3 today, and he's added 45 pounds to weigh in at 175.
"I was always a smart player growing up because I was smaller than I am now, so I had to be smart," Jankowski said. "Now, since my growth spurt, I've still maintained those smarts and I really like to use that on the ice -- my hockey sense and my vision. That all started when I was smaller. But now, after my growth spurt, I've benefited from the natural strength that comes with that and being able to use my body to protect the puck."
Jankowski began to open some eyes at a summer showcase event in Boston in July 2011, playing on a team with players three or four years older than him, yet still standing out.
That's where NHL Central Scouting's New England scout Gary Eggleston got a look at him, and a week later he sent Rioux an email asking him to have Jankowski fill out the paperwork required to be included in the system.
"In the early fall, Gary Eggleston had gone to see him play a few times and reported back that this is someone that we should have on our radar, and then David Gregory went to see him," Dan Marr, head of NHL Central Scouting, said. "So we had two full-time people saying this was a kid that should be on our radar. There was a lot of discussion on him at our midseason meetings, so we decided to put him where we thought he would get the proper attention at midseason. Then he was heavily scouted in the second half of the season."
2012 NHL DRAFT
Return 'home' earned positive attentionBy Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
Born in Canada but raised in Switzerland, Tanner Richard returned to Canada with the Guelph Storm and earned recognition as a top prospect for the 2012 NHL Draft. READ MORE ›
Jankowski was ranked No. 74 among North American skaters in the midseason ranking -- and all of a sudden Stanstead College games became extremely popular.
"Come January, I don't think we had a single game where we didn't have about 25 NHL scouts in the stands," Rioux said. "It was certainly not something we'd ever experienced before."
What those scouts saw was a center with a strong skating stride and extraordinary vision that was still learning to play in his new, drastically bigger body.
They also surely were impressed by Jankowski's strong bloodlines. His grandfather Lou played for the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks in the 1950s before serving for many years as an NHL scout. Jankowski's father, Len, played four years at Cornell University, and his uncle Ryan works as a scout in western Canada for the Montreal Canadiens. Finally, Jankowski's great uncle is Hall of Famer Red Kelly, winner of eight Stanley Cups with the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
In spite of the attention, Rioux said his star player never let it go to his head and remained a pleasure to coach.
"In all my years here, he's one of the most coachable kids I've had," Rioux said. "His first year here, if I'd asked him to put his head through a concrete wall, he'd have done it. He's a kid that any coach would love to have."
As scouts began to see Jankowski over the second half of the season -- including some attending his practices -- the pressure to perform continued to mount. But Jankowski didn't disappoint.
"From what I'd expected to see based on what our scouts said, he lived up to that and more," Marr said. "It's a tough environment to watch someone at that level and make a comparison to the junior players, but he stands out with a lot of NHL qualities.
"His skating, for one thing, is effortless, and he's got that top-end speed, but it's his hockey sense, his vision and his patience. His teammates just have to get there and the puck will be on their stick. He's that kind of playmaker. I think he's shown the teams what they needed to see, so I don't think there will be any hesitation [at the draft]."
Jankowski jumped to No. 43 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, but the one question mark that remains is his strength.
"I've been working out a lot," said Jankowski, who has committed to Providence College but likely will play next season for Dubuque of the United States Hockey League. "But I'm a bit of a late developer, so I'm still working on the strength. There's room for improvement."
His coach has seen Jankowski trying to increase his bulk, and he said teams should be looking more at what the player does have instead of what he doesn't.
"He's 22 pounds heavier than he was a year ago, and that's because of his regimen, his nutrition and his commitment to work on his body," Rioux said. "The hockey sense and the skill set are there, but you can't take a 17-year-old kid who is 220 pounds and give him the hockey sense that Mark has."
If Jankowski were to be taken among the top 30 picks during the first round of the NHL Draft on June 22, or if he's taken early the next day, he will be writing a new page in its 50-year history.
Barring a completely unforeseen turn of events, Jankowski should shatter that record this weekend.
"Coming from where I've come from, it's a cool story. I just pride myself on that," he said. "Sure it's cool. But I'm not here to make history, I'm here to make the NHL."