At the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, center Marko Dano was selected in the first round (27th overall) by the Blue Jackets. With the consensus prior to the draft that he could be selected anywhere from 40th -60th, what did general manager Jarmo Kekalainen see in the young player from Slovakia that convinced him to pick Dano in the first round?
The left-handed shot that stands 5-feet-11-inches tall plays an agitating, up-tempo game while having good hockey sense and above-average vision on the ice. He played the last two seasons in the KHL for HC Slovan Bratislava before coming to North America and playing in the AHL for the Springfield Falcons at the end of the regular season, plus five playoff games.
He arrived in Columbus recently, in advance of the Blue Jackets Development Camp. He’s in the early stages of making the transition to the smaller ice sheets in North America and will start the 2014-2015 season in Springfield.
"I think the transition (playing on smaller ice) won’t be bad," said Dano. "I don’t think I’ll need a lot of time to change my ways of playing." He’s full of confidence as a 19-year-old, which should translate well to the AHL.
"I have to improve my speed," he said. "It’s good for me that I have a big body and am good in the corners and behind the net. I have to move my legs, though, and get faster. That way, I can come out of the corners and beat defensemen."
With his weight at 180 pounds, he is strong for his size and plays a very physical game. Being able to read the game well goes hand-in-hand with him being a smart player. Playing the last two years in the KHL helped to prepare him to play against men in the AHL, and eventually the NHL.
"It was a good experience for me to play there. I didn’t play a lot of minutes on the ice, but it was good for me, I think. I learned how to be better on defense. I played a different role than I did in juniors and the World Junior Championships, learning from that. It was helpful for me."
Corey Pronman, of Hockey Prospectus, said this about the young Slovak. "He has a lot of offensive skills, most notably his hockey sense and his good hands. He is a very aware player, capable of top-end distributions. He tends to make quick decisions, and is an agile player, with powerful, all-around bursts."
"One scout," Pronman continued, "described him as a slippery skater because of his agility and creativity with the puck. He has an above-average top gear. He will show some physical effort, but he is a smaller player at 5-feet-11-inches tall and he projects as fringe in the physical areas at the NHL level. He will need to build up his strength."
As I stated earlier, most had Dano pegged to be selected in the latter stages of the second round of the draft. The surprise at him being drafted in the first round was not limited to hockey pundits last summer.
"I was surprised," Dano said. "I never imagined that I would be drafted in the first round. I’m happy, but it’s just the beginning. I have to work hard and show them (Blue Jackets) that I can make the first team and play in the NHL."
Talking with Dano, one gets the sense that he has a drive within him that he wants to prove to the pundits that general manager Jarmo Kekalainen selecting him ahead of where he was projected was not a mistake.
To conclude our conversation on a lighter note, I asked him to compare himself to one player. He laughed as he gave the question some serious thought. "That’s a good question," he said. "I don’t know."
"I think I play like (Jaromir) Jagr, but he’s taller. He has more weight than me. I’m not fast like other guys, but I think I play like him. I’m just not as tall," he concluded with a chuckle.
Marko Dano has a "do whatever it takes" mentality that will hold him in good stead at the genesis of his AHL/NHL career. He knows that he has work to do on his game to play at the NHL level and wants to get there. With Blue Jackets development coach Chris Clark and the coaching staff in Springfield working to make him a better player, his transition to the NHL should develop nicely.
Above all, I got the sense that Dano doesn’t want to let Jarmo Kekalainen down. That is an admirable trait to have.