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Heat Report - 31.10.16

Rookies are fueling the Stockton Heat in the early stages of the season

by Torie Peterson @ToriePeterson / CalgaryFlames.com

The kids are alright.

The Stockton Heat have received significant contributions from rookies in the early stages of the 2016-17 season and are off to a solid start thanks to their youngsters, going 3-2-1 in their opening six games.

"It's been great," Calgary Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy enthused. "There is an adjustment period but it's amazing how quickly our guys are adjusting and playing well."

As of Oct. 31, three of the Heat's top six scorers are in their rookie seasons: centre Mark Jankowski (2 goals, 5 assists), defenceman Rasmus Andersson (six assists) and winger Andrew Mangiapane (two goals, three assists).

With Jankowski, the transition to the American Hockey League was eased slightly by his eight-game stint at the tail-end of the 2015-16 season. After wrapping up his four-year collegiate career at Providence College, he signed a try-out agreement with Stockton and got a taste of what he would be experiencing full-time in 2016-16. During that cup of coffee, the Flames' 2012 first round pick scored two goals and posted six points.

Video: Learn more about Flames prospect Mark Jankowski

Andersson and Mangiapane were thrown right into the fire, coming off successful Ontario Hockey League careers with the Barrie Colts. Both were counted on heavily by the Colts and capped off their time in the OHL with torrid offensive production.

Andersson, the Flames' second round pick in 2015, potted nine goals and 60 points in 64 games. Managiapane, selected in the sixth round in 2015, set a new career-high with 106 points in just 59 regular season games last year.

The adjustment period can be a lengthy process for some rookies but all three have adapted to their new surroundings very quickly. According to Conroy, the trio's ability to acclimatize themselves to the pace of the game in the AHL can be credited to their maturity.

Smooth transitions, he stated, happen when a player can grasp that they won't have the time and space they were afforded in junior or college.

"It's the speed of the game there. And I think it's mental," he explained. "I think guys come in and they're big junior scorers, and it's easy for them, at the end (of junior). They're much better, even if they don't have their best game, they still get points, they still are one of the better players on the ice. And when they have really good games and when they're on their game, they get a ton of points. They really dominate the game in junior.

"So sometimes guys come in there and think they're going to get a lot of points. So mentally, to get over, 'This is going to hard. These guys are bigger, faster, stronger than anybody I've played against,' can be hard. 

"It's not that big of a jump to the NHL. For me, it's the second best league, behind the NHL. That's a huge adjustment."

There's also the normal growing up process all young adults experience, hockey players or not. All of sudden, there is a multitude of responsibilities on their shoulders away from the rink and they are navigating their way through adulthood while trying to carve out a professional career.

"They're on their own. They don't live with billets anymore. They have live on their own, take care of themselves. That's an adjustment too - the whole living away, on your own. You're a pro player now. We try to do the best we can for them in terms of helping them find a place to live, find roommates to try and make the transition easier but they're still on their own and they're still young guys."

In net, Stockton has another youngster playing a key role for the club. 

Jon Gillies had his first professional season cut short last year due to hip surgery, playing in just seven games in 2015-16, so he qualifies as a rookie in the 2016-17 campaign. He wasn't able to play for close to a year due to a lengthy recovery process but came into training camp fully healthy and ready for another crack at his rookie campaign.

The 22-year-old, who was selected in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft, has appeared in five games this season, going 3-1-1 with a 3.16 GAA and a .900 save percentage. He also competed in the 2016 Young Stars Classic in Penticton last month and got time with the Flames during the 2016-17 pre-season.

"You're always worried - how's it going to be? He hasn't played hockey in 10, 12 months but now he's in practice every day, in the games. He's done so well. He's off to a great start to the year," Conroy said. 

"He's got that confidence. Everyone around him feels, when he's in the net, that he's going to give them a chance. He's a big guy. He's athletic. He moves well.

"The last couple games have been a little more difficult for him, and that's going to happen. He's just figuring out too, as a young guy in the American League, the shooters and getting to know how everything goes. For him, he hasn't played many games. As a college player, he probably gets 30-some games a year with his back-up. Now, he's already got 10-12 games with pre-season. For us, we're going to have to manage his time a little bit - that's normal.

"But he's everything you want in a goalie with the size and athleticism. You just feel that comfort. And nothing bothers him. Mentally, he's very, very strong."

After playing their last three games on the road, the Heat return to Stockton this week for a five-game homestand that features visits from the San Diego Gulls, San Antonio Rampage and Ontario Reign. Their next game takes place on Friday, Nov. 4 and can be viewed on AHL Live.

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