PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The Calgary Flames' draft plans changed after general manager Jay Feaster dispatched assistant GM John Weisbrod in a near blizzard to watch high school prospect Mark Jankowski.
Jankowski was the most accomplished scorer among the draft-eligible players—he had 53 goals and 94 points at Quebec's Stanstead College last season–but, in part because he is only 17, he was widely projected as a second-round pick. NHL Central Scouting rated him at No. 43 among North American skaters, while others didn't have him in the top 50.
Clearly the Flames saw something others didn't.
So much so, they chose to trade down in the first round on Friday, sending the No. 14 pick to Buffalo for the 21st and 42nd selections, because they were so confident of Jankowski's ability, even though he is years away from the NHL.
In 10 years, Feaster predicted, "Jankowski will be viewed as the best player in the 2012 draft," adding "We felt we could take the gamble."
Some will view it as a gamble, too; the Flames could have stayed at No. 14 and chosen defenceman Cody Ceci of the OHL's Ottawa 67's, who went to the Senators one pick later. Ceci owns a 97 mile per hour 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 the kid was the player they wanted.
The Flames may have gone off the board with this selection, but they are certain it wasn't an off-the-wall pick, given Jankowski's offensive talent and his still-developing physique.
Jankowski, who passed up his high school graduation to attend the draft, has signed with Providence College but is expected to go into the USHL for developmental purposes.
He's plenty tall enough already at six-foot-two, but at 170 pounds, he needs to add some muscle.
"I really want to prove them right," Jankowski said of the Flames. "I think in 10 years I can be the best player in this draft. ... But I need to get bigger and stronger, and I'm going to work out very hard."
The rest of his game needs no work. He has a strong shot, dangles the puck on his stick with ease and is a skilled playmaker. His puck-handling skills are seen as far advanced for a player of his age.
And he is advancing quickly. He wasn't even drafted into junior, which prompted his decision to enrol at Stanstead. Jankowski was only five-foot-seven just two years ago, when he obviously couldn't have foreseen he would be a first-round pick in 2012.
"There are no words to describe how I feel," he said.
Jankowski comes from a hockey family. His grandfather played professionally and his father played at Cornell. His great uncle is former Toronto Maple Leafs star Red Kelly.
It's not that the Flames couldn't use offensive help now. Even with considerable experience on their roster, they were only No. 27 in scoring among the 30 NHL teams last season. They lack forward depth and were in need of a puck-moving defenceman.
Their top prospect, Sven Baertschi, could be ready for the NHL soon, and that might ease some of the Flames' more immediate offensive deficiencies.
Down the road, Jankowski might help, too. The Flames can only hope that day isn't 10 years away.