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Photo Credit: © Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Now or Never for Marko Dano With the Winnipeg Jets

In the span of about a calendar year, Marko Dano has played 16 hockey games in the NHL. 365 days and 16 games of professional hockey.

Even among the NHL’s lowliest depth forwards, that’s a low, low mark.

It’s clear that, for whatever reason, Dano’s fallen out of the good graces of Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice. And worst of all, it’s not the first time the 23-year-old winger has worked himself into the doghouse. It’s why he’s a Winnipeg Jet!

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Dano was a huge part of the first Brandon Saad trade which sent him to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville soured on him, and it was clear months before the Jets acquired him that it was never going to work in the Windy City.

This is a pattern years, and organizations even, in the making.

It’s up to the Jets to correct this course, lest they watch a prospect that once seemed to have so much promise dwindle into obscurity.

For starters, there are signs from earlier in his career, and even in his time with the Jets to some extent, to indicate that Dano has a fair amount more to give than what the numbers on the surface might suggest.

Hell, in Dano’s first season, it was clear that the talent was there. In 35 games with the Blue Jackets, Dano scored 21 points, and all but one of them came at even strength. Sure, some of that was luck in the form of an inflated on-ice shooting percentage (there’s probably an extra assist or two that wouldn’t be there with normalized numbers), but Dano was also a shot generation machine and only converted on ten percent of his tries.

The following season looks like something of a disappointment — certainly the 13 games Dano played with the Blackhawks — but he finished strong with eight points in his 21 games debut after the Jets acquired him in the trade that sent Andrew Ladd back to the Blackhawks.

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It was last year that Dano was supposed to establish himself in the NHL, but a lack of trust from the coaching staff limited him to 38 games and barely over ten minutes a night at that. The situation snowballed, and many have been quick to write Dano off since without taking into account the context which limited his ability to be the most effective player possible.

Even so, people greatly overstate the extent to which Dano disappointed.

At five-on-five, Dano was quietly effective in limited minutes. His 1.56 points per hour ranked eighth on the Jets and left a fine two-way footprint — nothing to complain about, really.

And as former Jets Nation Managing Editor Garret Hohl noted, his GAR (Goals Above Replacement) data suggested that, overall, he added more value compared to several of the Jets bottom-six options last season when one prorates the data sets for ice-time.

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There’s a player there; the Jets have to find a way to get that player more involved.

So far this season, it’s been difficult. Dano’s played but six games for the Jets, and he’s yet to register a point. As other parts of the bottom-six, players like Brandon Tanev, Andrew Copp, Joel Armia, etc. find their way, it’s been easy to justify keeping him on the sideline.

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Now, though, the Jets are facing some adversity in the form of injuries. In consecutive games, the Jets have lost Mark Scheifele and Tanev to injuries, and have since placed both on injured reserve.

There isn’t a better time than now. If the Jets can’t make it work now, it’s probably not going to work out period. Dano is 23. Contrary to what we’ve thought for years, players usually peak at about 24 or 25-years-old. If Dano isn’t an NHL regular now, well, the writing is on the wall.

It’s a tough situation. The Jets have already had to face the uncomfortable reality of scratching Shawn Matthias for weeks at a time, and that means sitting north of $2-million in the press box. Some teams can live with that, but the Jets are an internal budget team, so I doubt you can count them among that group.

Matthias scored two minutes into his return to the lineup, and the team seems keen on using him to help deal with Scheifele’s absence. But Tanev’s injury changes that dynamic. They recalled Jack Roslovic, who deserves a shot in his own right, too. It’s a numbers crunch, even with injuries.

The alternative is letting Dano’s Jets tenure end, and not with a bang, but a whimper. Even if using Dano now just means building trade value for the Jets, who look poised to make a run and could use some deadline rentals if they want to go that route, then it wouldn’t be the worst decision. Certainly, better than the alternative.