Don’t tell John Weisbrod drafting Mark Jankowski 21st overall in the first round of this year’s draft is taking a big chance.
Not after all the Calgary Flames assistant GM went through when he was general manager of the NBA’s Orlando Magic.
Back in 2004, Weisbrod took the bold step of selecting Dwight Howard first overall out of the high school ranks, instead of college star Emeka Okafor out of the University of Connecticut.
“That was far, far riskier than anything we did tonight,” Weisbrod recalled Friday night. “It seems obvious now because Dwight Howard worked out, but I had three garbage bags of hate mail for doing that, and everybody going crazy on ESPN saying, ‘What’s this nutty hockey guy doing running a basketball team.’
“This is a different scenario, but I feel good about it.”
Still, it’s going to take a few years to know whether the Flames made the right move, which is usually the case with pretty much any player outside the top 10 picks.
The Flames could have gone the easy route. They had the 14th pick and could have nabbed Latvian standout centre Zemgus Girgensons, who the Buffalo Sabres selected after giving the Flames the 21st and 42nd picks in this year’s draft for that spot, Ottawa 67s defenceman Cody Ceci or even small-but-talented centre Teuvo Teravainen from Finland.
Heck, even after trading down, the Flames could have nabbed Brendan Gaunce of the Belleville Bulls or Finnish defenceman Olli Maatta and you can bet the fanbase would have been thrilled.
Instead, they grabbed a player who played prep-school hockey in Quebec, where he collected 53 goals and 93 points in 57 games and plans to go to the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints next season before going Providence College.
However, before condemning Flames GM Jay Feaster, head amateur scout Tod Button and Weisbrod, consider these numbers.
Jankowski — whose grandfather, Lou Jankowski, played for the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks in the 1950s and great-uncle is Toronto Maple Leafs legend Red Kelly — was actually rated 37th by The Hockey News, but went one pick after Scott Laughton, who was listed to be chosen 42nd.
Based on the ratings by that publication, the Flames didn’t go as far off the board as the Phoenix Coyotes when they took Henrik Samuelsson — who was listed 50th — with the 27th pick, or the Boston Bruins did by using the 24th pick to take goalie Malcolm Subban, who was rated 48th.
Sure, it’s easy to say the Flames could have used their second-round pick to get Jankowski, but who among those insisting that can be 100% certain?
Weisbrod said Jankowski “definitely wouldn’t have made it through” the first round.
By the way, former Flames GM Craig Button had Jankowski ranked 14th in his pre-draft list for TSN.
Also, consider that John LeClair was drafted out of a U.S. prep school and that seemed to work out in the end.
The reason Jankowski didn’t play major junior was the fact he was 5-foot-7 at age 15 and passed over. Saginaw of the OHL eventually drafted him and would have happily had him on their roster for the next two years.
That’s not to say the Flames have hit a home run with this pick. For all we know, Jankowski — who won’t even turn 18 until Sept. 13 (had he been born three days later, he wouldn’t have been eligible for this year’s draft) — won’t fill out or will hit a wall when playing top opposition at his age.
But, for all we know, down the road he’ll be the first-line centre the Flames have been trying to find since Joe Nieuwendyk skated in the Saddledome.
“We feel this guy can be a 6-3, 6-4, 215-pound, 225-pound centre with velvet mitts,” Weisbrod said. “He’s a great athlete. It’s a long way from draft day to the NHL for anyone and this is a longer-term process — this is not a Sven Baertschi situation — but a three or four year proposition and we feel when he gets there, he has the potential to be very special.”
Lord knows it can’t work out any worse than when they drafted Daniel Tkaczuk sixth overall in 1997.
Tkaczuk, who skated in just 19 NHL games, was supposed to be the safe pick and had all the pedigree and name recognition you could ask for.
Sometimes, it’s best to think outside the box.
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak