Avalanche – Book’Em Dano

The Colorado Avalanche picked up Marko Dano off waivers from the Winnipeg Jets on Monday morning, fulfilling several bad Hawaii 5-0 puns. The acquisition presents some interesting questions for the Avalanche organization, especially when considering Dano’s experience.

Meet Marko Dano

Dano is a 23-year-old center who played 23 games for the Winnipeg Jets last year. He was born in Austria but grew up playing hockey in Slovakia and stands 5-foot-11  while weighing 212 pounds. He scored two goals and an assist for the Jets last year while earning a minus-two and six penalty minutes. But that doesn’t tell you much about how he plays.

The Jets are a deep team so the competition for ice time is steep. He averaged only 7:11 of playing time per game, comparable to the ice time of current Avalanche call-up Vladislav Kamenev. He managed to play 160:20 at even strength out of 165:18 total ice time last year. While he’s listed as a center, he only took two faceoffs last year, so the Avalanche may play him at wing. He has 130 NHL games under his belt, during which time he notched 45 points.

He’s not unfamiliar to some Avalanche members. A former 2013 first-round draft pick, Dano was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets and spent two years in their system. Dano played 49 games for Columbus’ AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, including 39 games during Jared Bednar’s first year as the Falcons’ head coach. Former Blue Jacket and current Avalanche player Matt Calvert played with Dano during Columbus’ 2014-15 season when Dano played 35 games for the big club.

Marko Dano in his days with the Columbus Blue Jackets (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)

Current Avalanche assistant general manager Chris McFarland was also an assistant general manager for Columbus during Dano’s tenure with the organization. In this case, familiarity may have bred respect.

The Avalanche will be Dano’s fourth NHL team in four years. Columbus included Dano, along with Artemi Anisimov, as part of the trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for Brandon Saad back in June of 2015. The following February saw Dano heading to Winnipeg as a key piece in Chicago’s trade for Andrew Ladd.

Despite being part of some big trades, Dano has yet to find a foothold with an NHL team. Statistically, his best numbers came from his tenure with Columbus, his first team. Can playing with some familiar faces help Dano earn a stable NHL role?

How Can Marko Dano Help the Avalanche?

Dano could play alongside Carl Soderberg, who would benefit from some skilled play from his wings. Anyone who watched the Avalanche loss to Columbus, as well as the overtime loss to the Calgary Flames, recognized there were some holes in that line’s play. Matt Nieto and Gabriel Bourque should take note.

Murat Ates, who covers the Winnipeg Jets for The Athletic, sent out the following tweet when Dano was officially waived:

A fair amount of time has passed since Dano played for Bednar but it could be that the coach has an idea of how to best utilize his skill sets. While Dano’s NHL ice time has dropped with each team, he could very well earn a consistent spot on the roster if he finds a way to be a solid contributor.

Dano has very little special teams play under his belt so don’t expect him to be a penalty killer like Bourque or a power play sniper. But he does have some consistent numbers at even strength play which should help bolster either the third or fourth line for the Avalanche.

Ramifications of Claiming Dano

There are some concerns with the Avalanche acquisition of Dano, although they are more about the team than the player.

First, the Avalanche picked up yet another center. They are chock full of centers throughout the organization. The team really needs another speedy wing. Perhaps Dano can fill that role but he may simply be a player the organization decided was worth a tryout.

Marko Dano - Winnipeg Jets
Marko Dano claim raises concerns for depth of Avalanche development system (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Second, the troubling breakdowns in the Avalanche’s two losses showed a need for more reliable two-way play. Instead of drawing on their pipeline, though, the Avalanche picked up Dano. This raises concerns about how the team views the talent pool and player usage. For example, if they need a guy to eat up seven to ten minutes of ice time without getting pushed out of position, then a waiver pickup is not necessarily a bad idea. It’s hard to know what Kamenev and Sheldon Dries are learning in their seven minutes of ice time a night. Perhaps the organization thinks that Kamenev and Dries would reap greater benefit from more ice time down with the Colorado Eagles of the AHL.

But what does that say about the development and drafting system for the Avalanche? It’s not a surprise the team needs a scoring wing. And it’s also not a surprise the team needs quality third and fourth line play. Do the Avalanche not have those players in the pipeline? Or do they, but they aren’t ready yet? In an ideal world, with a bunch of twenty-somethings on the Eagles’ roster, they should have players ready to roll when an opportunity presents itself.

Third, picking up Dano leaves the Avalanche with only two contracts left before hitting the 50-contract limit. This could very well impact spring signings of prospects like Shane Bowers, Cale Makar, Tyler Weiss or Brandon Saigeon. Maybe the Avalanche are expecting to waive someone down the road or make a trade. Maybe they don’t intend to sign college players or junior players as their respective seasons end. But it could put an interesting wrinkle in their system if, God forbid, injuries come down the pike. No one wants a repeat of the Andrew Bodnarchuk signing.

The Silver Lining in the Dano Pickup

On the bright side, while there are questions with acquiring Dano, the Avalanche have had some recent success with waiver pickups. Patrik Nemeth, Mark Barberio and Nieto became successful waiver additions. Mark Alt, while not spending a lot of time with the Avalanche, has become the captain of the Colorado Eagles, and he was a waiver pickup.

Adding Dano could also send a message to some of the underperforming players that they need to pick up their game or get replaced. Calling up a rookie may not make the same point.

Maybe Dano just needs the right opportunity to shine and the Avalanche think they can benefit. The front office has become decidedly more opportunistic in the past couple of years so Dano could very well be the low-risk high-reward chance they are willing to take.

Jets Left Wing Marko Dano
Marko Dano brings competition to the Avalanche forwards  (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Claiming Dano off waivers accomplishes three goals even if he doesn’t turn out to be a good fit. First, it sends notice to current players that anyone can be replaced if they don’t perform. Second, it proves the Avalanche are intent on guarding their prospect’s ice time to enhance development. Third, it means the team is serious about trying to win.

If the Avalanche were only about youth, they would play their rookies. But it appears the team thinks they are on the path to success, so the Avalanche seized a chance to easily fix a problem. Hopefully, this sends a message that the future is now. Should Dano prove he only needed an opportunity to become worthy of his first-round draft selection, then the Avalanche hit the jackpot. They’ve done it before.

Can Dano be the answer to the Avalanche’s bottom line woes? Time will tell. Acquiring Dano, though, could be a little move that pays big dividends, regardless of his ability. Dano is booked, now let’s see if he can be as consistent a contributor as the television character.