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Marko Dano: A New Opportunity

by Mitchell Clinton (@MClinton007) / Winnipeg Jets

When Marko Dano sat down for dinner on Feb. 25, 2016, he didn’t know his life was about to change.

That was when the 21-year-old’s phone rang. On the other end was Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman, telling Dano he had just been traded to Winnipeg.

“It was a little surprising. I came to the Chicago Blackahawks, which is a great organization. It was a good opportunity for me to be around those guys that won three Cups in six years,” said Dano. “But now I’m with Winnipeg and I’m looking forward to being with a new group of guys.”

It’s not the first time Dano has had to pick up and move on short notice. Born in Eisenstadt, Austria, he was originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets 27th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft. He was then dealt to Chicago as part of a seven-player trade that included Brandon Saad going to the Blue Jackets.

That trade happened in the summer, though. Dano had much more time to pack and get acclimated to his new surroundings. This time, he met the team in Pittsburgh, PA on Feb. 26, played against Pittsburgh the next afternoon, then spent an off-day in Rockford, IL packing and getting back to Winnipeg.

“It was busy. Just in rush and travel, and not a lot of sleep. But I’m glad I’m finally here,” he said. “Two hockey bags and one bag, a couple carry-ons. It was pretty tough to pack all that stuff and leave Rockford, and leave the place I was living for half a year with my good roommates.

“It’s a new start, I’m excited about that.”

Looking back, Dano values the time he spent in Columbus, where he got his first taste of NHL action.

“I was playing along with good players in Columbus. I was with Scott Hartnell and other good guys, like (Nick) Foligno and Ryan Johansen,” said Dano. “In Chicago, they’re amazing players. Practicing with them was an amazing experience. I think I became a better player beside them. Now I hope I can benefit from that.”

Now Dano will skate alongside other NHL stars like Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler as he continues to hone his skills at the highest level. Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice felt the young Dano handled the trade well, and felt that just being on the ice with his new teammates is the best way to get acquainted.

“For a younger guy there is a lot of nerves. The guys that have been in the room for a while have experienced it before, they’re always pretty welcoming,” said Maurice. “We’re going to try and balance how much information we give him about style of play, and systems, and things like that because we do want him to just go out and play.

“He’s got 20 new friends. It’s like kids going to a different school. They figure out how to get along.”

Along with those 20 new friends, Dano is also reuniting with an old friend: Manitoba Moose defenceman Jan Kostalek. The two were drafted in the same year, and coincidentally, had dinner together when the Moose travelled to Rockford a week before the trade.

“We were just talking about how it is (in Winnipeg), and we end up being teammates in one organization,” laughed Dano. “I know him from the Combine and the Draft. He’s a good friend.”

Kostalek isn’t the only run in Dano has had with the Manitoba Moose. One of Dano’s roommates in Rockford was none other than Pierre-Cedric Labrie, who played 175 games with the original Manitoba Moose from 2007-2010.

For Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his team of scouts, there were a lot of things that Dano brought to the table that made the decision to acquire the young forward appealing.

“Marko is a young player that has had some success at the National Hockey League level. We know he’s got great hockey sense, he plays the game hard, he’ll go to the net, he’ll go to the tough areas to make a play,” said Cheveldayoff. “He’s not a real tall player when it comes to physical height, but he’s a stocky player. So he can protect the puck in the corners. He can make plays coupled with his hockey sense.”

Dano showed all those things in his debut wearing a Jets uniform against the Pittsburgh Penguins in late February, less than 48 hours after learning of the trade.

He had three shots on goal and two hits in 14 minutes of ice time, playing on a line with Adam Lowry and Joel Armia.

“I felt good. I was glad I could get the first shift done in the first game,” said Dano. “The bad thing was we lost the game. I felt pretty good with Lowry and Armia on the ice. I think if we’re going to play together for a couple more games, we’ll get the chemistry going.”

It’s that chemistry that Dano, Maurice, and Cheveldayoff would like to see grow as Dano (and the team as a whole) matures. To start the 2015-2016 season, the Jets were the fourth youngest team in the NHL at 26.7 years of age. By bringing in Dano, that number will only get smaller.

It’s one of the challenges of being a general manager. Keep building for the future, while competing in the present. Dano is a player that accomplishes both of those.

“Certainly from our standpoint it’s something we were looking forward to adding to our prospect pool. He’ll get a chance to play with the Jets down the stretch,” said Cheveldayoff. “He’s on our roster for the remainder of the season. It’s a good evaluation period of a young player that we think is going to be a big part of our team moving forward.”

And Cheveldayoff has a buy-in to that plan from influential players in the dressing room. He and Dustin Byfuglien had conversations about it during negotiations on the defenceman’s contract extension.

“We’ve got a lot of good young players coming…. But we have an obligation to the group of guys that are here as well to continue to build this,” said Cheveldayoff.

“When I sat down with Dustin and talked about the direction we’re going and there might be some bumpy roads at different points in time ahead, to hear him say he believed in that, that had a lot to do with the fact we gave Nikolaj Ehlers a chance to play this year. He earned it, but we allowed that opportunity to play this year.”

For now though, Dano knows he can’t think too far ahead. With 48 games of NHL experience coming with him during his move from Rockford, he knows at this point, it’s about making good on an opportunity. As pumped as he is about the chance, he thinks his parents may be even more excited.

“They’re happy for me that I have the chance to play with the big team,” said Dano. “I didn’t get that much time on the ice in Chicago. It’s a big step for me. I’m glad I can be here and help the team.”

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