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The centreman will be in the lineup tonight when the Flames host the Coyotes

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Another opportunity to make a boffo impression. Never a bad thing.

"Getting in the lineup again,'' says Mark Jankowski, hours away from making his third pre-season start, this evening against the Arizona Coyotes, "is fine by me.

"You want every opportunity to show your best self. And if you're given those opportunities, it's up to you deliver.

"So far, I think it's gone pretty well. There are lots of things to work on, to improve on, obviously.

"But you can't over-think things. I've put a lot of time, the same as everybody else in here, to put myself in the best position to succeed.

"Now's the time to trust in yourself, trust in your game."

Every September, in each of 31 cities, the choice for those endeavouring to get a first firm foothold in the game's highest-level, never varies. It's either:

Blend in.

Or stand out.

"Those are more guys on the bubble, in my mind, that have put themselves in the blend-in category so far in this camp than the stand-out category,'' concedes Flames' GM Brad Treliving. "Now you're into Week 2 and decisions need to be made, soon.

"One of the things you hear when send a guy down is 'I needed more time.' Sorry, but you've gotta make hay in the time you get.

"The evaluation period, the 'Can I get another look?' phase, is coming to an end. You've got to find a way to draw attention to yourself. You can't just be a part of the background.

"Mark's done some really good things. He's stood out. He's produced, made plays, shown his strengths - strength, playmaking ability.

"The challenge for him, as with all young players, is not having the ebbs and flows. I thought, like a lot of guys, he started strong the other night and then tapered off.

"But he's a guy who's made himself noticed. So we want to see more.

Video: Jankowski rips a wrist shot in off the post

"If you're taking not playing games as a positive sign, then you're in deep, deep trouble. He's playing in them. He's deserving of it.

"And tonight's another challenge."

As the numbers thin out across the league and opening night draws ever nearer, opposing line-ups will naturally begin to the strengthen and deepen.

Those games always constitute the real litmus test, the polygraph print-out, for serious contenders.

"You can be good in Penticton and against the teams that are mostly fielding 'A(HL)' guys, but if you want to play act this level you need to step up against the best players, against nearly-full NHL lineups,'' Jankowski agrees.

After two goals in as many pre-season looks, the preliminary phase of big-league acceptance is proceeding smoothly.

"Janko,'' says Flames' boss Glen Gulutzan, "has been very good. We just keep wanting to see him with different guys. We thought he's shown well right from rookie camp and want to give him an opportunity to see if he can make our club."

One of those envisioning big things from the rangy centreman is another candidate aiming to make the permanent leap, Garnet Hathaway, a teammate and linemate during Jankowski's lavishly-applauded freshman campaign in Stockton.

"He is,'' lauds the rabble-rousing winger, "an unbelievable player.

"He's doing well this pre-season. I'm not surprised. Not at all. I've played with him enough, been around him enough, to know.

"He's a pro. He's got a great game and a good head on shoulders. He'll do well.

"I think he'll have a long career in this league."

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