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Dano hopes to excel in Columbus homecoming

Former CBJ first-round pick wants to make impact after signing one-year deal

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

In the spring of 2015, everything was going right for Marko Dano. 

After making his NHL debut that winter, Dano finished the campaign on a hot streak. The 2013 first-round pick of the Blue Jackets tore it up down the stretch for Columbus, scoring 14 points in the last 15 games and looking like a valuable piece of the future puzzle for the franchise. 

And then, everything changed. The Austrian-born Slovakian winger never suited up in Union Blue again, as he was part of the Brandon Saad trade that offseason. Dano never found his stride with the Blackhawks and soon was off to Winnipeg in another deal, then spent three years with the Jets before playing in eight games with Colorado last year. 

The total tally over the past four seasons: 103 NHL games, 11 goals and 24 points.  

So it's no wonder that Dano is happy to be back with the Blue Jackets organization, with whom his total register includes 35 career games and 21 points, after signing a one-year, two-way deal Thursday. 

"It feels like I'm coming home," he said. "That's where everything started for me, so it's pretty cool to come back. I'm happy to be back and ready for this opportunity and hopefully it's going to work out. 

"Hopefully where I left off, I'm going to jump right in and gonna play my best and be able to help the team. We'll see if it's going to be from the start of the season or during the season, but I'm just excited to be back." 

The 27th overall pick in the 2013 draft -- he was one of three first-round picks for the Jackets that year, joining Alexander Wennberg and Kerby Rychel -- Dano looked every bit the part of a future CBJ building block when he arrived in the capital city. 

After coming up through the youth ranks in Slovakia, Dano spent most of the season after his draft year in the KHL, then made the trip to North America to play for the team's top farm team in Springfield. 

A year later, he had a solid start with the Falcons, posting 11 goals and 19 points in 39 games before getting the call to Columbus. As the team finished that 2015 season on a red-hot streak, winning 15 of its last 17 games, Dano was a key part of that surge.  

But he never found his footing in subsequent stops. The 5-11 winger tried to add some bulk after being traded to Chicago but instead sapped his quickness, and he played in just 13 games with the Blackhawks before being dealt to Winnipeg. He found trouble staying in the lineup with the up-and-coming Jets, and inconsistent playing time led to inconsistent play. 

"After I left Columbus, it was rough for me," he said. "I wasn't getting that much time on the ice that I was getting in Columbus, so it's hard to get points when you're not in a game rhythm or you're playing for just a couple of minutes.  

"But you have to deserve the chance, and you have to deserve the minutes. Hopefully, I can earn the trust of the coaches and from there, we'll see how it goes." 

Dano, who will turn 25 in November, will have the chance to compete for time with the Blue Jackets this season in training camp, but he also could end up with AHL Cleveland. At the very least, he should be a low-risk, potentially high-reward scoring option after finishing with a 12-18-30 line last year in 51 games with Winnipeg's AHL team in Manitoba. 

Things have changed a bit since his time with the Jackets -- there's a new head coach in John Tortorella -- but there will be some familiar faces in guys like Wennberg, Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson and others.  

Dano said he's stayed in touch with some guys, including his draft class friend in Wennberg, and looks forward to trying to recapture the form that made him look like a key piece of the puzzle in Columbus a few years ago.  

"It's a familiar place to be," Dano said. "There are some changes, a new coach, so hopefully I'm going to be able to do my best and he's going to like my game. I'm going to come to camp ready to work, and hopefully I can start where I left off. It's going to be great to be back." 

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