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Jankowski looking to make an impression in Penticton

Flames prospect Mark Jankowski is ready to make an impression in his first pro season.

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH / CalgaryFlames.com

CALGARY, AB -- New on Netflix this month is Man on a Wire, the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary chronicling aerialist Phillipe Petit's high-wire walk across Manhattan's Twin Towers.

Maybe Mark Jankowski should flop down on his hotel-room bed and give it a watch.

Not a long commitment, at 94 minutes running time.

And, well, he might be feeling a slight twinge of vertigo himself right at the minute.

"Now,'' says Calgary Flames' GM Brad Treliving of the highly-anticipated rookie centreman, "he's working with no net.

"Before, there was always that safety valve, that cushion, if you will, of being able to go going to back to school.

"Now you're walking on the wire and there's nothing like that below you to break your fall.

"You've got to get from one side to the other. Or else.

"I'm interested to see how he reacts to it."

It's been four years since the Flames veered wildly off the form chart at Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center and selected a high school centre out of Standstead College en route to Providence with their first pick, 21st overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

The landscape hereabouts has altered exponentially since then. The GM at the time, Jay Feaster, is gone. The head coach, Bob Hartley, too.

While, Jankowski has gone from strength to strength for the Providence Friars, winning a national championship, for Flames' partisans, the interval has seemed longer than waiting for Godot.

"I try to block everything out and only focus on my game,'' says Jankowski, just finished fitness testing on Thursday out at WinSport before departing for Penticton, B.C., and the annual Young Stars Tournament. "Ever since I was drafted that's been my mindset. I can't rush things. I can't worry about what other people are saying and thinking.

"This going to be really exciting. My first year of pro hockey. I know I'm not going back to Providence.

"I'm here.

"I've heard that Penticton is a hard, intense tournament that sets the tone for the rest of camp and the pre-season.''

The curiosity level, he knows, will be high. And the aim is clear.

Get noticed.

"Coming into camp, you want to make an impression; you want to stand out. That's how you're going to make them take notice. If you're dominating games and practices, then there going to start giving you second looks and maybe throwing you into exhibition games.

"Then you get to show you stuff.

"That's what I want to do. I want to go in, I want to dominate, give it my all and show them what I'm capable of."

According to those who should know, what he's capable of is plenty. The gangly kid from Dundas, Ont., who arrived at Schneider Arena on campus in Rhode Island's capital city the fall of 2012 is a vastly different model than the one bucking for showtime employment today.

Video: Development Camp - Mark Jankowski

"With Mark, it's been a fun evolution to watch,'' says Friars' coach Nate Leaman. "He came here a puppy and now he's a man.

"He made the jump from prep school to college without playing junior, a big jump. And when he got to us, remember, he weighed in at 169 pounds, at 6-3. He left here at 6-4, 205. It was tough for him to put weight on and keep it on. Which is why the college model was a pretty good, being able to be in the weight room throughout the season.

"By his senior year, he was our No. 1 centre. In the biggest moments against the biggest teams, he was … there. I could start him anywhere, in the D-zone, in the O-zone. And he was an All-American. Had 40 points, which is a good season.

"As he evolved, our program evolved."

Jankowski's offensive progression has been steady -- from 18 to 25 to 27 to 45 points over the four Hockey East seasons -- but it's his diligence away from the puck, the willingness to commit to the hardscrabble side of the game, that's won over his general manager.

 "I give a lot of credit to our player-development people,'' praises Trevling, "and to Ray Edwards in particular because he's worked with (Jankowski) a lot.

"You look where he is physically from the day he walked up on stage at that draft and the difference is night and day.

"But his game's still evolving.

"In my short time here, though, I've seen him become a much more responsible player. At that age, most players are really worried about going one way on the ice. But he's been taking draws, killing penalties, playing down low in his own end.

"Some of those non-sexy things are that might give you a chance to play. I've really been impressed with his ability to play away from the puck, think away from the puck. And at the end of the day, he's going to need that."

Still, the offence is there. What sets Jankowski apart, in Leaman's estimation, is the
"Great vision. Knows how to create 2-on-1s. Makes unbelievable plays. His puck distribution is very good. He just … knows how to play.

"Good kid. Great kid. When you'd pull him in for individual meetings, he'd always take the information and get better. It's nice to have a guy you can show things once on the board and he gets it right away.

"With his genetics, he's a guy who's still putting weight on, still developing. The big thing for him at this camp is to play his game.

"For Mark, it's just about taking advantage of his poise and his confidence, letting the natural abilities take over. 'Cause he's a good player."

At the close of Providence's 2016 season, Jankowski joined the AHL Stockton Heat for their closing eight games to acclimatize himself with the pro game. In those auditions, he produced two goals and six points.

And made a fast fan of Heat coach Ryan Huska.

"When someone comes in under those circumstances, you're always outwardly cautiously optimistic,'' says Huska, "but deep down there's always a part of you that believes the player might struggle a little bit.

"But (Jankowski) stepped in and played important pieces for us. We used him at the end of his stint on our top line and our powerplay and to take important faceoffs.

"For me, in that small sample size, he seemed to be a guy capable of playing both ends of the ice. He gained our trust very quickly."

The wait, Flames' fans, is at an end.

Godot is in the building.

"We all want it to happen,'' says Treliving, " and we all want it to happen right away. Some of them take a little longer than others.

"We'll see.

"As I said, it's going to be interesting."

The Man on a Wire steps out on the tightrope Friday, 5 p.m. at South Okanagan Events 
Centre in Penticton.

Working now with no net.

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