Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen isn't overly concerned about what may be perceived as a "down" season for Marko Dano.
In fact, he is more encouraged by the fact that the Blue Jackets now get to see one of their three first-round picks (2013) up close and personal; Dano is the second of the three - after Kerby Rychel signed in December - to ink an entry-level deal with the team and now that his KHL season is over with HC Bratislava, Dano is headed to North America.
Kekalainen sees it as a learning experience and a growth opportunity for the 19-year-old Dano, who has experience in both the World Junior tournament and the World Hockey Championship. The future is bright for Dano, a player the Blue Jackets were delighted to select at No. 27 overall, and his next step is to begin learning the North American style of hockey.
"I don't think this was a great year for him with his club team," Kekalainen told BlueJackets.com. "I think he fell into what many young players do after their first year, and this year he wasn't playing a lot - sometimes around 10 minutes a game. His World Junior, probably as a result of that, wasn't as good as the year before.
"But young players go through learning experiences; they can have a great year to start and then a down year. There's a lot of hockey left for him this year and we want to get him over here and practicing with our coaches and players."
Immigration issues have delayed Dano's arrival in Springfield, but Kekalainen said this weekend that the Blue Jackets are confident that the situation will be expedited and resolved shortly. The plan is to have Dano practice with the Falcons (who are currently leading the Northeast Division by eight points over Albany) and eventually join their lineup for the stretch run - much like Boone Jenner did last year after his OHL season was finished.
Exactly when Dano is ready to play will be up to both him and the Falcons coaches, Kekalainen said, but the Blue Jackets are willing to be patient. They like his hockey sense and his ability to create offense, but there's another facet of the game they want Dano to learn.
"I think he has good instincts, and he sees the ice really well," Kekalainen said. "He understands the game when the puck's on his stick and when his team has the puck, he can create offense and he has good offensive tools. The one thing we have to work on with him and other European forwards is the game away from the puck.
"It's a lot different than perhaps what they're used to because the rink is smaller and everything happens faster. Despite the fact that he's not real tall, he's strong and stocky and he's a confident kid whose style can adapt to the North American style very well."
And not only will Dano be adjusting to and learning the North American game, but he will get a crash course into the organization and how the Blue Jackets do things. He's the next prized pupil of Falcons coach Brad Larsen and his staff, who have earned a reputation of being tough but fair - and their track record of working with the Blue Jackets' young players is solid.
It's part of a symbiotic relationship between the Blue Jackets and Falcons: their systems and style of play are nearly identical, they run similar drills in practice and the Springfield coaching staff strikes a balance between the desire to win and the goal of preparing its players for the next level.
"I think we have a great coaching staff in Springfield and they do a great job coaching, teaching and getting our players to understand what it takes to be a pro," Kekalainen said. "That's what it's all about and you can see in the standings they've done a good job, but on an individual level, you can see it when they come up here to Columbus. The players are always prepared, they're in good shape and they know what Blue Jackets hockey is all about."