NEW YORK, NY -- It has been a long journey for Mark Jankowski but tonight, over four years after hearing his name called 21st overall at the 2012 NHL Draft, he will make his NHL debut when the Calgary Flames take on the New York Islanders.
"It's pretty cool. I'm really excited about this," Jankowski said. "I've just got to go out there and play a smart, simple game and just help the team win.
"I'm definitely pretty excited. A little nerves but I think that once I actually get on the ice, those will subside and I'll realize it's just hockey - just another hockey game and just try to get into the feel of the game."
While every player's NHL debut is memorable, his family's ties to the city of New York add to this evening's affair.
His grandfather Lou, who played 127 games in the NHL, worked as a scout for the New York Rangers and his uncle Ryan spent time as an assistant general manager for the New York Islanders.
"It's going to be a real special moment for me and my family."
Summoned from the Stockton Heat on Friday, Jankowski has taken in two games and practiced once with the team - experiences he feels has him prepared for tonight's milestone skate.
"It was good for me, getting that practice in Philly, just getting to be on the ice with everyone and get acclimated to the situation."
Len and Rosemary Jankowski, Mark's parents, have journey across the northeastern United States since he was recalled, hoping to see their eldest son make his NHL debut. They have taken in games in Boston and Philadelphia and have been able to visit with Jankowski over the past few days - something he is very appreciative for.
"I really hoped they would be able to see [my debut]," he said. "All the sacrifices they've made - the 6:00 AM practices, everything growing up - always supporting me when I needed it. It's really big for me that they're in attendance."
Jankowski comes into the fold after a great start to his first professional season. In 13 games with the Stockton Heat, he has three goals and 12 points and has averaged 0.92 points-per-game. Being able to produce right off the hop in the AHL and earning plenty of minutes under Stockton bench boss Ryan Huska has bolstered his confidence heading into tonight's match-up.
"I had a pretty good start to the season down in Stockton and I know in my mind that I can play at this level. I just have to use that and bring that out and show it."
"I just want to play a smart, simple game," he added. "Try to use my big body to try and protect pucks down low and be a smart 200-foot player. Be good in the d-zone and be hard on pucks in the o-zone, taking pucks to the net and be a presence around the net all night."
Head coach Glen Gulutzan relayed one message to Jankowski this morning in the team's meetings: provide a spark.
The team is coming off of a disappointing 5-3 loss in Philadelphia last night and are pushing to cap off this six-game road trip on the right note.
"Any young guy that comes up, he's got to play with some energy. That's what you hope when you put a guy in the lineup because you're taking somebody out that's played probably most of the year ... sometimes it's all warm and fuzzy and we want this to be a big thing - and your first NHL game is a big thing - but he's got to come in and provide energy."