Marko Dano: More Than Trade Bait

Imagine how Marko Dano must feel, being traded twice before even playing a full NHL season. One could forgive him if he felt mildly offended.

Dano, a 21-year-old Slovakian and a former 1st round draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, hadn’t even played 40 games for the team that drafted him before they were shipping him off to Chicago for Brandon Saad. He then played all of 13 games for Chicago before they too told him to pack his bags and sent him to the Winnipeg Jets.

It’s not as if Dano was traded for bags of pucks or a single dollar as Kris Draper famously was but even if he was traded for Jets captain Andrew Ladd and a future star contributing in the present in Saad, it’s hard to imagine him not feeling a little slighted. If his first few weeks in a Winnipeg Jets uniform are any indication, Dano is taking that rejection the way many hockey players seem  to: as motivation to work harder.

Determination and mental strength are virtues so common among NHL players that they’re basically expected of them at this point, so nobody should be surprised that Dano appears to have adopted the mentality of make-them-sorry-they-traded-me. That said, it’s encouraging to see nonetheless. The Jets gave up a big part of their present to land Dano, so the hope is he will become a big part of their future. There was an adjustment period, as is to be expected, but it seems to be passing now.

To be clear, the Jets do not expect Dano to replace Ladd, who twice led the team in points and was among the team’s most consistent forwards in every zone. What they do expect is that he shows them something that makes giving their captain to a Stanley Cup contender a little more bearable.

With five points in ten games so far, Dano’s job is far from complete, but it’s off to a promising start.

Another Hurdle to Leap

Exceeding expectations is what Dano seemingly does best. Going as far back as his draft year, he’s been an underdog. At the beginning of his draft season, Dano wasn’t really on anyone’s radar, and his eventual first round selection would’ve come as a huge surprise to scouts in November of 2012. Then the World Juniors rolled around, and Dano forcibly adjusted everyone’s radar to get himself on it.

Dano put up four goals and nine points in just six games as an underage player, and suddenly he was in the conversation as a top prospect. When Columbus took a flyer on him with their third of three first round picks that year, 27th overall, nobody was really shocked. For one thing, teams with three first rounders have every right and every reason to swing for the fences with the third pick (a philosophy the Boston Bruins took to heart with all three of their picks last year). For another, Dano’s performance at the WJC had made teams take notice of his play with the KHL’s Slovan Bratislava.

For those curious, the Blue Jackets’ other two picks in that draft were Kerby Rychel and Alexander Wennberg. Rychel has reportedly asked for a trade out of Columbus after having had no success becoming an NHL regular despite strong AHL numbers, while Wennberg has played 125 games for the Jackets so far, and has had moderate success. It’s worth noting that Dano outscored him in 2014-15 with 21 points in just 35 games, 33 fewer games than Wennberg himself played.

It’s far too early to say whether Dano will end up being the best of those three first rounders, and right now even money is on all three being good NHL players one day, even if right now it looks like only Wennberg will do so in a Columbus uniform. All that can be said definitely at this point is that Dano has all the skills to be a big part of the Jets’ future. He’s solid defensively, willing to go to the dirty areas to score goals, and likes to play a gritty, at times agitating style.

Sounds familiar…

Again, Dano is not Ladd’s replacement. And I know it’s hard for Jets fans to be up on anything right now (not for want of trying on my part) but Dano does represent a step forward for the future.

A future that is blindingly bright and getting closer by the day is a good reward for all the Jets have been through this year. Someday that future hope is going to have to translate into something, and Dano is going to be a big part of it when it does. After all, he’s no stranger to beating the odds.