(The top 10 continues in our ranking of the Hawks' best players under 25 years old! Check out all the previous entries in the series with our storystream.)
It was just one play in the middle of a random regular-season game between Columbus and Carolina, but it showed clearly why the Blackhawks targeted 20-year-old forward Marko Dano this summer. Gliding across the ice to receive a pass, Dano makes two tight moves with the puck to put the defenseman on the ice near the blue line, then powers his way to the net unimpeded. Instead of shooting, Dano dishes off a no-look, backhanded touch pass through the crease to set up a surefire goal:
That's an incredible play, the likes of which you usually only see from the game's big stars. Except this time it came from a 20-year-old playing in his 23rd NHL game. There are the usual caveats that come with any player this young and inexperienced, but Dano looks to be the real deal. It was an easy choice to put him No. 2 on our ranking of the Blackhawks' Top 25 Under 25.
The thing with Dano is that, whether you're looking at the tape or digging into the stats, it's hard not to get excited. This is different from someone like Artemi Panarin, who has potentially jaw-dropping talents but needs to show he won't be the latest KHL star to flame out in the NHL. With Dano, we've already gotten a taste of him playing in the NHL. And boy, it was pretty spectacular.
There aren't a ton of players who make an immediate impact at age 20, let alone thrive from Day 1. Dano, meanwhile, put up 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in his first 35 games with the Blue Jackets. His possession stats were also amazing, with a 54.3 percent even strength Corsi and a plus-6.5 percent Corsi relative. When Dano was on the ice, he was a dominant possession player who also produced on the scoreboard. For an analytics-oriented team like the Blackhawks, it's easy to see why they would target Dano.
Those scoring numbers might not seem special at first glance, but a deeper dive reveals that Dano's early impact in Columbus puts him in an uncommon place. Only three players his age -- Filip Forsberg, Jacob Trouba, Andre Burakovsky -- put up better possession numbers last season (Teuvo Teravainen was No. 5). And among players age 20 or younger, Dano's been one of the best shot producers in recent memory. Look at the other players on this list:
That's practically a who's who of the biggest young offensive stars of the past five years, plus Dano.
So we're talking about a 20-year-old winger who's put up elite possession numbers and shot production numbers while playing on a good-not-great team. The possibilities here as he gets older and partnered with other top players in Chicago are truly tantalizing. And unlike many explosive offensive players who don't thrive on the other side of the ice, Dano's strong possession numbers show a willingness to play a quality two-way game. That can often make or break players in Joel Quenneville's system, and with Dano, there's little reason to believe he'll be anything but a welcomed addition.
Yes, the sample size is small. Yes, Dano was a low first-round pick who tons of teams passed on. Yes, he wasn't considered a truly elite prospect before his breakout in 2014-15. But watching Dano's tape and looking at the stats, it's hard not to wonder if the Blackhawks pulled a stroke of genius here. Saad will surely be the better player in the short-term, but there's a decent chance that a time comes when Dano at a discount proves to be a better value. That's an acceptable gamble for a Blue Jackets team that's trying to make the leap and needs a reliable star player like Saad. And for the Hawks, who simply couldn't afford Saad, it appears they've made the best of the situation. Dano's precisely the kind of high-level prospect you need to get when you lose a high-level player. Now we just have to hope he keeps developing like Saad did. We know he'll get the proper support playing alongside future Hall of Famers like Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa (which could start from Day 1 if he gets the first line nod).
Everything about Dano seems exciting, and it's apparent from comments around the team that expectations are high for the young Slovak winger. Maybe he won't bust out with 25-plus goals in his first season, but the potential is absolutely there. Acquisitions like this will be how Chicago stays on top of the mountain. Dano looks like a keeper.
Position: Right wing (can also play left)
Birth date: Nov. 30, 1994 (age 20)
Acquired via: Trade with Columbus Blue Jackets, June 2015
Most recent stop: Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)
Size: 5'11, 183 pounds
Contract: Entry-level; $925,000 cap hit for 2015-16; RFA in 2017
Highest ranking: No. 2
Lowest ranking: No. 3