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Flames glad to give hyped Jankowski time to develop

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- Jay Feaster, the Calgary Flames general manager at the time, told reporters center Mark Jankowski "will be viewed as the best player in the 2012 [NHL] Draft."

John Weisbrod, Feaster's assistant, compared the 17-year-old to a young Joe Nieuwendyk.

Those quotes about Jankowski, the 21st pick of that draft by Calgary, still ring out occasionally. Craig Conroy remembers them.

"You try not to hear that, but once it's been said and then it's said everywhere -- Twitter and blogs -- it has a life of its own," said Conroy, now assistant GM with the Flames after serving as special assistant to Feaster when Calgary traded down from No. 14 to select Jankowski three summers ago in Pittsburgh.

"It's hard to avoid it nowadays. I think if it happened 15 years ago it would be said once at the draft and then probably nobody would even talk about it."

On draft day, Jankowski was 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, and had just finished his season with Stanstead College, scoring 53 goals and 94 points to be one of the draft's highest scorers, albeit coming out of a boarding school in Quebec.

It was expected he'd join the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League, who sent Flames prospect Johnny Gaudreau to Boston College.

Instead, Jankowski fast-tracked directly to Providence College, where he'll return to play his senior season this fall, now standing closer to 6-foot-4 and weighing a more solid 198 pounds.

He'll be returning with thoughts of completing his degree, and with much of his draft-day hype subdued.

"I didn't really honestly take too much out of that," the 20-year-old said at Flames development camp. "People say things and I can't control any of that. The only thing I can control is what I do and how hard I work. I feel like so far, ever since the draft, ever since I've laced up the skates, I've been a hard worker and that's something I pride myself on.

"That's all I can control, is how hard I work. I think I've done a pretty good job of that."

Calgary patiently watched Jankowski evolve.

"The skating, the size, his shot's got better," Conroy said. "I'm really happy with him here (at development camp). It was one of those where you want him to get stronger. He's still skinny but he is filling out a little more. He's got great hands; you see some of the goals he scores. Smart, and his skating seems like it's gotten stronger. His stride seems better and it seems like he's gotten stronger on his skates.

"He looks more solid this year and hard to knock off pucks."

Since selecting Jankowski, the Flames added forward Sean Monahan in the first round (No. 6) of the 2013 NHL Draft. Monahan turned pro the following September and, after a 20-goal, 40-point rookie season, became one of 12 players in the past 20 NHL seasons to have at least 30 goals and 30 assists in the same season before their age-21 year, getting 31 of each last season.

Forward Sam Bennett, the fourth pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, followed a season nearly completely lost to shoulder surgery with a late jump into Calgary's lineup. He scored three goals with an assist during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where the Flames were eliminated five games into the Western Conference Second Round by the Anaheim Ducks.

The immediate returns on Monahan and Bennett haven't dampened Calgary's view of Jankowski.

"You'd like to say everyone that gets drafted is going to play in the NHL, but sometimes it takes a year. Sometimes right away, that doesn't happen very often, that's rare," Conroy said. "Sometimes it takes two, three, four years. You don't want to rush guys, you don't want to throw them in there, you don't want to bring them out of college after their second year and say, 'We don't see the development we'd like,' not that we didn't see what we liked, but of course you want to see it fast-tracked.

"I know for me, I went to college and then at (age) 22, 23 and 24 I really felt like I was hitting my stride comfortably. I couldn't have played at 18, (to) have Sam Bennett do that or Sean Monahan, it's pretty special. But even with [Gaudreau], it took him those three years and he dominated in college and got to the point where college was too easy for him now and we had to move him on, and look what he did last year (24 goals, 40 assists, Calder Trophy finalist).

"With Jankowski, we want to make sure we do the right thing with him and not rush him. Just because he's a first-round pick doesn't mean he needs to play right away. We'll bring him in after the year and we'll get him signed and then hopefully we'll get him in here and then we'll have full control."

Jankowski, one of six players taken in the first round in 2012 yet to make an NHL debut, said he understands.

"I'm not really trying to look at anything else," he said. "Everyone's different. Everyone develops at their own pace. From Day One, every day you're just trying to get a little bit better no matter what you do, in the way you eat, how you sleep, how you train, how you practice.

"Every day I'm just trying to get a little bit better and throwing out everything else and just worrying about myself."

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