PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Some general managers take the safe route during the NHL draft. They don’t veer far from the projected norm, sticking with seemingly secure picks while treating any risk with the same disdain as they show to a four-minute penalty.
Then there’s Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster.
Feaster might have taken the biggest gamble of any GM during the two-day draft at Consol Energy Center, reaching, though that’s not a word in his vocabulary, for high school centre Mark Jankowski during the first round.
It’s the kind of go-off-the-charts move that, someday, can get a general manager fired—or, conversely, can earn him a multi-year extension if the pick plays out.
After trading with Buffalo on Friday night, the Flames moved down to No. 21 overall to choose Jankowski, a baby-faced 17-year-old with a innate ability to dangle the puck on his stick like an NHL veteran but a long road still left to travel to reach the league.
Other teams had Jankowski going much lower, yet Feaster boldly predicted that, in 10 years, Jankowski will be the best player selected during the 2012 draft.
Assistant GM of player development John Weisbrod is Jankowski’s biggest supporter, arguing that the Flames should hold on to their first-round pick—there was sentiment in the organization to deal it—so they could land Jankowski.
“He still has to cross those crocodile-infested waters,”Weisbrod said Saturday after the NHL needed less than three hours to conclude rounds 2-7. “(During) the time period from getting drafted to being in the NHL, a lot can go wrong. Obviously that’s on his shoulders and our shoulders to develop him.”
Still, Weisbrod said, “from a pure talent standpoint, to get a guy at No. 21 that’s as physically talented as anyone else in the draft, that makes you bullish. He’s capable of being that special kind of player.”
The six-foot-two Jankowski, who has grown about six inches in the last two years, was ranked 43rd among North American skaters in the final Central Scouting rankings, normally not a position where first-round picks are found.
But to Feaster and his aides, there was value up and down a draft in which Weisbrod said he was happy with all seven picks.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to be, but I’ve been in drafts where I haven’t felt that,” Weisbrod said.
The Flames began Saturday by picking USHL defenceman Patrick Sieloff with the No. 42 overall pick, which they acquired in the Friday deal in which they switched first-round spots with Buffalo. Central Scouting had Sieloff pegged at No. 31 among North American skaters.
“I like playing against top lines and shutting them down,” said Sieloff, who is expected to play for the Windsor Spitfires next season.
After that, the Flames went for another USHL player, six-foot-four goalie Jon Gillies, on the third round, followed by defencemen Brett Kulak of the Vancouver Giants and Ryan Culkin of the Quebec Remparts, left wing Coda Gordon of the Swift Current Blades and centre Matthew Deblouw, one of three USHL players among the Flames’ seven picks. Deblouw is expected to play at Michigan State.
Gillies is headed to Providence College, where Jankowski was initially expected to play. Instead, he’ll go into developmental hockey.
Jankowski was the most accomplished scorer among the draft-eligible players—he had 53 goals and 94 points at Stanstead College high school in Hamilton last season—but, in part because he is only 17, he was widely projected as a second-round pick.
The Flames could have stayed at No. 14 and chosen defenceman Cody Ceci of the Ottawa 67’s, who went to the Senators one pick later. Ceci owns a 97-m.p.h. slapshot and was projected by some scouts as a top 10 player.
Still, an hour-long meeting Friday in Pittsburgh with Jankowski further convinced Feaster and his staff that he was the player they wanted.
“I really want to prove them right,” Jankowski said. “I think in 10 years I can be the best player in this draft.”