Could the third time be a charm for Marko Dano?

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This article was published 6/11/2020 (443 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Could the third time be a charm for Marko Dano?

The Winnipeg Jets put their affinity for the 25-year-old forward on full display Thursday, signing the alumnus of the organization and unrestricted free agent to a one-year contract for the 2020-21 season. The two-way deal is worth US$700,000 at the NHL level and US$150,000 if he suits up with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.

"Yeah, I know that saying," he said during a phone interview from Slovakia on Friday. "Hopefully, this case will prove that. I’m super excited and looking forward to be back. I’ve been there before for a couple of years, so it’s like a family of mine.

"They were always really good to me, everyone in the organization, and hopefully we can do something special together again."

Indeed, it’s Dano’s third stint with the Jets organization. He was acquired in 2016 as part of a trade that sent Andrew Ladd to the Chicago Blackhawks and was picked up on waivers from the Colorado Avalanche in late 2018.

He scored 10 goals and chipped in 12 assists in 82 games over three seasons with the Jets, spending large chunks of time in the press box and with the Moose.

The time he spent in Winnipeg provided the best moments of his pro career.

"Every game in that building (Bell MTS Place) was special, with all the fans and with national anthem. That sticks in my mind. That atmosphere in Winnipeg was amazing," Dano said. "That city stuck to my heart and I have great memories, and, hopefully, we can make some new ones next season." 

Dano is currently playing for HK Dukla Trencín of Slovakia’s elite pro league, registering a three-point night in his debut in early October for his hometown team. But he pulled a groin muscle in practice and missed four games, and was then sidelined by a mild case of COVID-19, part of a team-wide outbreak last month.

He just started practising again last week and his squad will finally play a game next week.

"There’s a bit of nostalgia playing for my hometown team," said Dano, who was born in Austria in 1994 but raised in Trencín, his parents’ hometown.

"But it will be great to get back to Winnipeg in a few weeks or months."

The former first-round draft choice (27th overall) of the Blue Jackets in 2013 showed flashes of high-end offensive skills and versatility in Columbus during his rookie season. He had some speed and threw his body around with enthusiasm, and looked to be a key piece of the deal for the Jets popular captain.

In Winnipeg, some fans will argue Dano wasn’t afforded a fair shake by Jets head coach Paul Maurice and deserved a better fate than a permanent designation to the fourth line, playing alongside the likes of Chris Thorburn and Nic Petan.

The fact remains he fell short of expectations, and each NHL season that passes decreases the likelihood the 5-11, 212-pound winger being an impactful NHLer.

But Dano believes it’s not too late.

"I wasn’t playing my best hockey when I was (in Winnipeg) at that time. But now I’m feeling really good after summer workouts and everything I’ve done this off-season and feeling ready to go. Hopefully, I can show it on the ice and things will work out," he said.

"I’ve been all over the place and got lots of experience, and I’ve learned from every spot I’ve been to and I can use that to be a better player. I’m in the best shape of my life and turning 26 soon, it’s a good time to be part of the Winnipeg Jets again."

The Jets didn’t offer Dano a contract following the 2018-19 season and he opted for a familiar setting, inking a one-year deal with Columbus. During a shortened 2019-20 season owing to the pandemic, Dano went pointless in three games with the Blue Jackets and amassed four goals and 19 points in 46 games with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters.

As he looked for employment in North America the last few weeks, he was intent on finding a similarly comfortable setting.

"Winnipeg is a place where everybody knows me, where the coaches know me. They know my pluses and minuses, and I think we’ve worked on the minuses and now I’m gonna be ready to show them I can help the team out," Dano said. "I know how to play different kinds of roles, and whatever they’re gonna be asking me to do, I’m ready to do it.

"I’ve improved my speed now, so I can bring even more energy now. I’m not afraid to hit guys, so that’s something I’m gonna start with. Hopefully, I can score a couple of goals and get some points."

Dano has his work cut out for him as he joins a logjam of skaters battling for a fourth-line role with the Jets. An assignment with the Moose seems inevitable. 

He has played almost exclusively at the AHL level the past two seasons, including 51 games under coach Pascal Vincent in Manitoba during the 2018-29 campaign when he scored 12 times and added 18 assists. 

"(Vincent) called me up after I signed and was super excited for me. He welcomed me back and said he’s hoping that I’m not going to be seeing him much," Dano said, laughing. "I’m going to fight for a spot with the Jets and if there’s one I’m gonna be happy, or, if I end up with the Moose, I’m gonna do my best and whatever it takes to come back to the big team." 

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).