Blue Jackets’ rookie Marko Dano proving he belongs in NHL

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Marko Dano (56) scores against Vancouver Canucks goaltender Eddie Lack (31) during the second period at Rogers Arena. The Blue Jackets won the game 6-2.

Anne-Marie Sorvin/Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Spor

On June 30, 2013, Jarmo Kekalainen sat down for his first NHL draft as General Manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets. President of Hockey Operations John Davidson and the Columbus scouts were with him at the table within the Prudential Center in New Jersey. They had three selections to make in the first round courtesy of moves made by former GM Scott Howson.

With the 14th pick, the first European GM in the NHL selected Alex Wennberg from Sweden. His second selection was just five picks later at 19, part of the trade to the New York Rangers of Rick Nash for Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, was Kerby Rychel from Canada.

His third pick of the first round was a result of the trade to the Los Angeles Kings of Jeff Carter for Jack Johnson and it was truly a "what?" and "who?" moment. With the 27th pick, Kekalainen selected Marko Dano from Slovakia.

Many were left scratching their heads and doing quick searches of just who this Dano kid was. Before coming to North America, Dano had played for HC Slovan Bratislava (KHL). His 5’11" frame (183 lbs.) belies the tenacious nature of his play on the ice. Once he was here, he played 10 games for the Springfield Falcons, notching 2-4-6.

He was still finding his way around the smaller ice of North American rinks when he made the Blue Jackets team out of training camp (due to injured roster players). In eight games with the club before being assigned to the Falcons, Dano recorded 1-1-2, averaging 11:42 time on ice.

In Springfield for 37 games, Dano quietly went about the business of really getting acclimated to the smaller ice rinks and working on his development. He went 10-8-18 for the Falcons before being recalled to Columbus on February 16.

Since his return, he’s recorded six goals and six assists giving him NHL totals of 7-7-14. What has been more prevalent has been the tenacious nature of his play on the ice. The acclimation process went well, coupled with the burgeoning chemistry between him, fellow rookie Alex Wennberg and veteran player Scott Hartnell.

His play since being recalled from Springfield has been a steadily eye-opening experience for both the organization and the fans. It has been marked with sublime moves as he drives to the net, crisp passes to his teammates and a knack for scoring goals.

It culminated Thursday evening in Vancouver, as he recorded the first two-goal, three point game of his NHL career. He had three shots on goal and one hit in 17:59 of ice time against the Canucks.

"It’s a great feeling," Dano said of scoring two goals after the game. "(The) first two-goal game is something special for me. It’s fun to play with those guys (Wennberg, Hartnell) and it’s easier for me to score those goals when they make those chances for me."

His first goal was set-up from Nick Foligno passing the puck along the end boards behind the Canucks net to Artem Anisimov, who then shoveled it to Dano in the slot. The 20-year-old Dano wasted no time and one-timed it past a helpless Eddie Lack. The entire sequence was beautiful.

Dano scores 2 goals, Blue Jackets rout Canucks 6-2

"We spent more time in the offensive zone holding onto the puck," Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards said. "A great example of it was Marko’s first goal. Nick Foligno held onto it and played with it, turns and eventually we broke them down and were able to score."

His second goal of the night came from Alex Wennberg hitting the glass behind the net as Dano drove to the side and found a small gap from an even tighter angle to put the Blue Jackets up 4-2. His third point came in the final frame as he got the Canucks’ goalie to commit to him before he fed a sweet saucer pass across the slot unselfishly to Hartnell, who buried the puck in a wide-open net.

His line combined for four goals and two assists for six points against Vancouver.

"He’s got his line-mates that are helping him," said Richards. "But, he’s also doing things on his own. He’s playing big, playing strong, physical in the corners and physical in the battles. Once he creates a little separation, you saw some different things. He can score goals and he makes a great pass to Hartnell so he can score his goal. There’s a lot of skill and ability in him."

With just 11 games remaining for the Blue Jackets, rookie Marko Dano has proven that belongs in the NHL. You can chalk up another below-the-radar draft pick to Jarmo Kekalainen that is paying dividends almost immediately for the Blue Jackets.

Programming Note: The Blue Jackets complete their Western Canada road trip Saturday at 4:00 p.m. against the Calgary Flames. Catch all the action beginning at 3:30 p.m. with the FOX Sports Ohio pregame show "Blue Jackets LIVE".