First round pick Dano looks to make Jackets take notice

Columbus Blue Jackets center Marko Dano (56) skates on the ice against the St. Louis Blues at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets won 4-3 in overtime.

Greg Bartram/Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

When the Blue Jackets stepped to the podium at the 2013 NHL Draft to take advantage of their third first-round, and 27th overall, pick the selection of Marko Dano surprised a few, but Dano is looking to make sure that the Jackets don’t regret it.

Dano is participating in his first Blue Jackets training camp this fall after signing an entry level contract with the Blue Jackets in March. The signing came after Dano completed his second season in the KHL and came stateside to focus on playing in the NHL.

"It’s a different league (in the NHL)," Dano said. "There’s a different size rink, the ice is smaller here so everything is happening faster, so I have to improve my game."

And improve he did. Dano finished with the KHL playing close to eight minutes a game — not a lot of time according to Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen – and joined the Jackets AHL affiliate in Springfield where he played ten regular season games, going 2-4-6, and five post-season games going 0-2-2.

It was after the flurry of games that the real work began. Dano stayed in Columbus for about six weeks to train with other Jackets players and work out with strength and conditioning coach Kevin Collins to transform his body into NHL shape.

"When he came over here he wasn’t taking nutrition as seriously as he should, I think he weighed 210 lbs.," Kekalainen said. "He took Kevin Collins’ program seriously and now he’s 200 lbs. of just muscle, he’s in great shape."

Dano believes that physical change should help him. At 5-foot-11, he considers himself a good two-way player who has strong hockey sense.

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"I can protect the puck," Dano said. "I’m not that tall but I have strong legs so in the corner I can protect the puck and make good plays. I can see the guys on the ice — I think I’m a playmaker."

That playmaking was in evidence when Dano participated in his first prospect tournament in Traverse City where the Blue Jackets team won the championship. The 19-year-old was tied for points leader on the squad (3-3-6) and had the game winning goal against Detroit, maneuvering around two Red Wings players to score.

Dano’s coach in Traverse, Jared Bednar, who is also head coach of the Springfield Falcons, liked what he saw in the young Austrian.

"He’s pretty quiet guy, but I think he lets his play speak for itself," Bednar said. "He’s very strong on the puck. He battles, he’s always moving his feet and making plays. He looks confident, relaxed and strong."

Now the challenge to break into the NHL lies ahead. To date, Dano has played in two preseason games, notching two assists and earning a chunk of time on special teams — something that Dano welcomes.

"It’s a great experience for me — I played a lot in special teams in Juniors and in the World Championships," Dano said. "In Bratislava I didn’t play as much, but when I came to Springfield I got a chance and now I’m getting back the experience and trying to improve my special teams play."

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Dano, who enjoys country music and reading books on positive thinking, has made it through the first two rounds of roster cuts and awaits the decision on where he will start his first full season in the Jackets organization.

"I’m learning a lot from other players and about the Blue Jackets system," Dano said. "I have to be ready for NHL."

As camp progresses, Blue Jackets leadership will continue to evaluate the forward. Jackets head coach Todd Richards acknowledged that like many young prospects, Dano has some good areas and some areas for improvement. But Dano is putting in the work to ultimately make a difference with the big club — regardless of if he makes the roster opening night or in the future.

"He’s had a great offseason," Kekalainen said. "That’s all I can expect from a young guy like that is to have the best summer possible and to try to compete in training camp. He’s a good prospect."

The Blue Jackets return to the ice against the Carolina Hurricanes in a preseason matchup Wednesday, Oct 1 at 7 p.m. Information on tickets for the pre and regular season can be found by calling (800) NHL-COLS or by visiting BlueJackets.com.

Follow Alison on twitter at @AlisonL