CALGARY, Alberta — The advice that Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa have had for linemate Marko Dano is simple, obvious, and certainly worth heeding.
“They tell me not to think too much, and just be calm, and not be scared of making a mistake on the ice,” Dano said. “Just be loose.”
Right. Of course.
But try not thinking too much when you’re 20 years old and getting a shot to play with two future Hall of Famers. Try being calm when you’re on a new team — the defending Stanley Cup champions, no less — and trying to earn a roster spot after spending a month in the minors. Try not being scared of making a mistake when you know your head coach has already given that same shot to a half-dozen other guys and yanked it away after a game or three. Try being loose when you still don’t feel up to speed after a knee injury disrupted your offseason workouts.
Dano — who was benched for about 15 minutes of play spanning the second and third periods in Edmonton on Wednesday, and who may or may not be back on the top line in Calgary on Friday — is going to be fine. He’s a highly skilled, highly regarded young player who will ease the blow of trading away Brandon Saad, the guy whom the Hawks are trying to replace on that top line. But these things can take time, even for the most talented of young players.
The trick is being patient, and not losing confidence — or losing sight of the bigger picture.
“Yeah, there’s a little pressure in the back of my head,” said Dano, who thought he and his linemates gave up possession of the puck too easily in Edmonton after doing good work to get it in the first place. “But I’m trying to find a way to get through. I wasn’t that good in some of those games, and I didn’t execute as well as I would like to. It’s kind of hard [to stay patient] because I want to bring my best game every night, and if it doesn’t work, it’s kind of frustrating. But I’ve got to stay positive, and good things will come.”
Dano only has himself to blame for raising the expectations so high. He burst onto the NHL scene in February with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season, posting eight goals and 13 assists in 35 games. And after being acquired by the Hawks in the Saad trade, he was the star of training camp at Notre Dame, instantly clicking with Toews and Hossa and leading all scorers with three goals.
“Yeah, but then we started playing real games,” said Dano, who partially tore his MCL at the World Championships in May. “I was struggling with the speed and with the system. Maybe that’s why I started too slow. But the season is long, so we have time to work.”
Nobody in the Hawks organization is worried about Dano. But Joel Quenneville’s patience is thin, and if he doesn’t improve in a hurry, Dano could go the way of Viktor Tikhonov, Ryan Garbutt, Bryan Bickell and all the other wingers who have had a crack at the top line.
“He’s a young kid that has some ingredients in him [and] we’d like to see some progression to his game,” Quenneville said. “He’s [had] a good opportunity here the last three games playing with those guys.”
It’s an opportunity he doesn’t want to waste. But one he can’t let weigh on him too heavily.
“I haven’t played as well as I’d like to,” Dano said. “Now if I get the chance again, I’ve got to just find a way to be better.”