Providence, RI - Calgary Flames prospect Mark Jankowski looks like a completely different player for Nate Leaman's Friars in his second season of college hockey. The sophomore, still one of the youngest players in college hockey, has improved dramatically from his freshman season.
Jankowski was selected by the Calgary Flames in the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft prior to arriving at Providence College. Many skeptics in the hockey-crazed province of Alberta criticized the Flames for selecting the St. Catherines, Ont. native with the 21st overall pick.
A rookie season in Hockey East that saw the lanky Jankowski score just seven goals and add 11 assists did little to quell the criticism. In a league that routinely has 20 and 21 year-old freshmen, Jankowski was extremely young and had to adjust to the faster-paced college game against much older players.
"We kind of giggle about it. He's still our second youngest player. He's still in the lower percentage of age if you take a snapshot around college hockey," said Leaman.
Through just five games this season Jankowski has four goals and one assist, but it's more than just his productivity that can be noticed when watching him. Jankowski is stronger on the puck and seems more willing to skate through traffic and drive the net this season.
"Last year he stayed on the perimeter quite a bit. This year he's stronger. When you add strength it adds confidence to your game. He wants to go to the net more."
Jankowski scored one of the biggest goals in his Friars career in his team's 3-2 overtime victory over Miami on Friday night. It was a highlight reel goal that saw him streak down the left side, toe drag the puck past a Miami defender and slip a backhander into the back of the net after faking everyone on the ice.
"It's a big time player making a big time play. That goal is a difference maker. It's a great play by Mark. It's good to see him start to have more confidence with the puck and want the puck."
There is still room for improvement for the Flames prospect. Leaman said he had to remind Jankowski to move his feet more before that highlight goal on Friday. "He's still a pretty young guy. He came in from a lower level that Division I guys usually don't come in from. He made a big jump."
Jankowski isn't the only Flames Prospect off to a hot start for the Friars. Sophomore defenseman John Gilmour shined in the weekend sweep of Minnesota State earlier in the season.
"[Gilmour] is very skilled and read the plays well. He was able to jump up into the offense a few times," said Leaman.
Reigning Hockey East Rookie of the Year Jon Gillies has been a rock in goal despite battling an ailment that caused him to miss practice time. "He missed four or five days of practice this week so he came back a little rusty," said Leaman.
He made one of the best saves you'll ever see in the first period of Saturday's 4-4 tie with Miami. After making the initial save, Gillies robbed Miami's Sean Kuraly on a follow up that everyone in the rink thought was in the back of the net. Instead it was inside Gillies' glove.
Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.