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Stajan not shy to lend hand to Jankowski

by Aaron Vickers @AAVickers / CalgaryFlames.com

CALGARY, AB -- Funny, suggested Matt Stajan, how things always seem to circle back.

A fresh-faced Mark Jankowski can remember a time when his family would pile in the car and head down to the Air Canada Centre to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Among those the budding minor hockey star would key in on?

Stajan.

The one helping Jankowski through his first training camp experience with the Calgary Flames.

"Once you're over 30, you start getting to that age where you're playing with kids that watched you growing up," Stajan said. "It's weird to be in that position. It's gone by so fast. That's the reality.

"I grew up watching the Toronto Maple Leafs because I grew up in Mississauga, and Doug Gilmour was my favorite. My first game he was on the team and was injured. That's part of the reason I got a shot. He came up to me in the room.

"That meant the world to me.

"You'll look back at the guys you played with when it's all done, but it does come full circle."

Indeed.  

"I got to see him a lot," said Jankowski, still fresh-faced at 22. 

"He's been good with all the young guys … just talking to us about the city and the organization and everything. I think he's been a big help.

"He's a great player, so when I'm on the ice in practice I'm looking at him to see what he's doing and all those little habits that a centre in the NHL has to have." 

It might have Stajan, 10 years Jankowski's senior, feeling his age a bit.

But he's not old enough to forget what it's like trying to carve a path into the NHL. 

Nor forget the one who showed him the way. And what it meant.

"I was very fortunate … I got to room with Joe Nieuwendyk my whole first year," started Stajan. "That was unbelievable.

"For Janko . ..I'm not Joe Nieuwendyk or a Hall-of-Famer … but I'm trying to help him off the ice and get him more comfortable and help him learn to be a pro. 

"You come in with your eyes wide open and not knowing what to expect. You're the top dog, usually, on your previous team, and you're coming in to play with all these pro hockey players, NHLers … you're wide-eyed. 

"You just want them to be comfortable and know that they're that close to being here."

It's not weird, though, to Stajan, that a kid watching him from the stands is now sharing the same ice, dressing room, meals, and swapping stories.

It's hockey.

It's a young man's game.

"It's a competitive league," Stajan said. "That's the age gap that happens. The only difference is there aren't many late 30's, early 40's guys in the league anymore. There were a lot when I came in.

"Now it's gotten a little younger. Young guys are stepping in a lot more quickly."

Jankowski and Stajan are the example of that in Calgary.

And while Jankowski, fresh from Providence College, might be new to Stajan, Jankowski is far from a fresh face to Stajan. The elder has followed the junior's path since being called as the No. 21 pick by then-GM Jay Feaster at the 2012 NHL Draft. 

He knows of Jankowski's collegiate career, and the press he's collected as a highly touted, long-term project with heaves of expectation -- both positive and negative.

"When you're part of a team, you know who's drafted and who the top picks are," said Stajan, himself a second round pick (No. 59) of the Maple Leafs in 2002.

"He's been in the system for a while, but he's been working his way through college and developing there. We're all wondering how he was going to be. I think for some reason he was getting a little bit of bad press for whatever reason that is.

"Some guys just develop later." 

Jankowski, based on Stajan's scouting report, seems to be right on track.

"He's impressed me a lot," Stajan said. "He's come in early. He's trained with us most of the summer. I've skated with him. He's a smart player and he's big. He's going to keep growing into his body.

"And he's a good kid. That's the main asset he has going for him as well. We'll see what happens with his career, but I think good things are to come. I think it's great for this organization that, for some reason, some weren't expecting much. 

"I would like to differ. He's going to be a player.

"With more and more experience, I have no doubt in my mind he's going to be an NHL player for a long time."

The timeline to get there is certainly of interest to Jankowski. 

Stajan too.

At some point they'll be in competition together.

The thought doesn't escape Jankowski.

"A little weird, but that's how this business is," he said. "It happens every year. Young guys come in and see some of their idols in the locker room. It is a little cool, but its also just part of the business."

It doesn't elude Stajan, either. 

He knows he could very well be grooming his replacement, potentially before he's ready to be replaced.

It's just that circle continuing on.

"At the end of the day you're all a part of a team," the veteran said. "When you're within an organization you fight for ice time, but I don't look at it that way. You fight to push your teammates. If I'm going to play really well I'm pushing my teammate to play even better, otherwise I'm going to take that ice time. Teams that do that and push each other have more success.

"At the same time, we're working together to one goal. Through the course of the season there's lots of scenarios and lots of things can happen.

"You've got to take care of yourself for sure, and make sure you're doing what you need to do, but you want to make sure you're getting the most out of every guy in the organization because that's the only way you're going to reach your ultimate goal."

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