OPIN­ION

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HERE are two kinds of peo­ple in the world: those who be­lieve Marko Dano is a great hockey player given a raw deal in Win­nipeg; and those who won­dered what took so long when the Jets sent him sent pack­ing last month.

With Dano, there ap­peared to be no mid­dle ground. Re­gard­less where you may stand, one thing is clear: the or­ga­ni­za­tion is play­ing a dan­ger­ous game these days when it comes to man­ag­ing some of their young as­sets.

For­tu­nately for Jets gen­eral man­ager Kevin Chevel­day­off, he’s avoided get­ting burned. So far.

How­ever, a fran­chise that prides it­self on the draft-and-de­vel­op­ment model can’t keep cut­ting play­ers such as Dano loose with ab­so­lutely no re­turn and ex­pect not to feel it down the road. Prospects don’t grow on trees, and you don’t want to get into the habit of rolling the dice that a player you’ve in­vested plenty of re­sources in doesn’t fi­nally put it all to­gether as soon as he gets a one-way ticket out of town.

Just ask the nu­mer­ous GMs in the NHL how it felt to to watch their pre­vi­ous “lost causes” blos­som last sea­son with the Ve­gas Golden Knights.

Dano made his re­turn to Win­nipeg on Fri­day night with the Colorado Avalanche, the team that plucked him off the scrap heap last month when the Jets de­cided to fi­nally move on from the 23-year-old Aus­trian-born winger to give play­ing time to other emerg­ing tal­ents such as Bren­dan Lemieux and Kris­tian Ve­salainen.

It’s safe to say the Avalanche ver­sion of Dano is pretty much the same one we saw for parts of the four sea­sons he spent here. Dano en­tered play against the Jets with no points in his first six games with Colorado, play­ing only a hand­ful of min­utes each night in a bot­tom-six role. There was even some healthy scratches mixed in re­cently for good mea­sure.

“I came to a team that was do­ing great. The coaches didn’t want to make changes early on, so I’ve got to wait for my chance. I’m happy to play at least a cou­ple min­utes and be a part of a team,” Dano said Fri­day fol­low­ing the team’s morn­ing skate at Bell MTS Place.

Dano spent much of last sea­son as a press box reg­u­lar, un­able to crack the Jets’ lineup but stuck in limbo when Win­nipeg de­cided they didn’t want to risk los­ing him by try­ing to send him to the Man­i­toba Moose. A sim­i­lar sce­nario looked in­evitable when he was a healthy scratch in the first four games of the sea­son, only for Chevel­day­off to seem­ingly switch gears by ex­pos­ing him on waivers.

Pre­sum­ably, by that point, Chevel­day­off had tried to find a fel­low GM who might have given the Jets some­thing back in a trade. Even a late-round draft pick would have been bet­ter than noth­ing. But it ap­pears there were no tak­ers. Why pay for some­thing you can even­tu­ally get for free, as the Avalanche found out.

“They didn’t see the op­por­tu­nity for me to play in Win­nipeg. I was happy that they gave me a chance to ei­ther play in the mi­nors and play some min­utes there, or, like it hap­pened, give some other teams a chance to pick me up. Last year was tough but I al­ways came to the rink and did my work, and now they kind of helped me out,” Dano said.

Dano’s lack of in­stant suc­cess with Colorado likely has the ‘good rid­dance’ crowd now shout­ing ‘I told you so’ from the rooftops.

T● ●

SURE, the Colorado Avalanche have one of the best top lines in the NHL. But Win­nipeg Jets cap­tain Blake Wheeler served up one heck of a re­minder Fri­day night that what­ever group he hap­pens to be skat­ing with isn’t too shabby, ei­ther.

Wheeler had a ca­reer-high five points as the Jets skated to an im­pres­sive 5-2 vic­tory over their di­vi­sion ri­vals at Bell MTS Place. Win­nipeg im­proves to 9-5-1 on the sea­son. Colorado drops to 7-6-3 in los­ing for a fifth straight game, four of them in reg­u­la­tion.

“Blake took it to an­other level. He’s a guy that drives our bus ev­ery sin­gle day in prac­tice, in the gym and ba­si­cally in ev­ery as­pect of be­ing a pro­fes­sional hockey player. He’s the guy that we fol­low,” said de­fence­man Josh Mor­ris­sey, who re­vealed he had an inkling Wheeler was about to erupt.

“I drove to the game with him and you could tell he was ready to go. He’s a big guy that has so much skill and com­petes so hard. Like I said,” said Mor­ris­sey.

Com­ing into the night, all of the talk was about the trio of Nathan MacK­in­non, Gabriel Lan­deskog and Mikko Ran­ta­nen. But Win­nipeg’s big guns came to play, not only si­lenc­ing Colorado’s weapons but chip­ping in with plenty of of­fence of their own.

It all re­volved around Wheeler. He set up Kyle Con­nor’s power-play goal mid­way through the open­ing frame, set up Mark Scheifele’s one-timer tally a few min­utes later, set up Niko­laj Eh­lers

Jets head coach Paul Mau­rice said ear­lier in the day he wasn’t sure what to ex­pect from his team, which hadn’t played in a full week fol­low­ing the Global Se­ries in Helsinki. But the Jets came fly­ing out of the game with per­haps their best first pe­riod of the sea­son, then fol­lowed it up with 40 more solid min­utes.

“We were hard and sharp right from the start,” said Mau­rice.

“Mor­ris­sey and (Ja­cob) Trouba were very strong and all of those D who ended up go­ing out against (the top line), that had a big part of it. But we played a pretty good five-man de­fen­sive game. We had a block there early in the third where we weren’t quite as strong, but other than that, all five were in on all pucks. We didn’t let them turn it into a one-on-one game or cause an aw­ful lot of con­fu­sion be­cause they beat some­body one on one and then all of those seams open. It was a re­ally which ex­tends a fran­chise record.

Win­nipeg also snapped a du­bi­ous streak by not tak­ing the game’s first penalty for the first time in 11 games.

Scheifele then scored his sev­enth of the sea­son just over three min­utes later, one-tim­ing a pass from Wheeler past Var­lamov.

Colorado de­fence­man Erik John­son cut the deficit in half early in the third when he beat Helle­buyck high, but Win­nipeg quickly re­sponded when Wheeler stole a puck, pa­tiently waited out an Avalanche de­fender and then fed Eh­lers for his third goal of the year.

“That pass that he made to Nikky was un­be­liev­able, just dan­gling that dol­lar bill in front of the D and then mak­ing them bite and slid­ing it over. It’s fun to watch,” said Scheifele.

That proved to be the game-win­ner as Tyson Jost scored with just over 13 min­utes left to make it a one-goal

Af­ter all, the 27th-over­all pick in the 2013 NHL Draft is al­ready on his fourth or­ga­ni­za­tion and seems un­able to es­tab­lish much of a pres­ence at this level no mat­ter how many fresh starts he gets. Maybe he’s des­tined to be just an­other in a long list of play­ers who never fig­ure it out, even if Dano be­lieves his best days are still to come.

“Now it’s just get­ting more com­fort­able and it’s my goal to bring my game ev­ery night,” said Dano. “I’m 23 years old, so I feel like this is the best age for a hockey player. I think I did good work in the sum­mer, came in shape, and now I just have to get back to game tempo and game pace. It’s go­ing to take a lit­tle while, but I feel like I can be a good fit to this team.”

You won­der how many games Dano has left to prove his case? He ap­pears on his way to fol­low­ing the Alexan­der Bur­mistrov plan if things don’t change soon. Re­mem­ber Bur­mistrov? The eighth-over­all pick in the 2010 draft by At­lanta was an­other young Jets tal­ent that many felt Jets head coach Paul Mau­rice (and Claude Noel be­fore him) sim­ply never gave a fair shake.

Like Dano, he even­tu­ally ran out of chances in Win­nipeg and was placed on waivers in 2017. The Ari­zona Coy­otes took a chance in grab­bing him, only to be met with sim­i­lar dis­ap­point­ment. Then the Van­cou­ver Canucks signed him, only to bid him farewell a few months later when the enig­matic Rus­sian opted to “re­tire” from the NHL at the age of 26 and take his tal­ents to the KHL.

Con­sider that an­other po­ten­tial bul­let dodged by Chevel­day­off.

Then there’s the case of Joel Ar­mia, an­other skilled young for­ward the Jets were forced to move on from with zero re­turn. Un­like fel­low first-rounders Dano and Bur­mistrov, this wasn’t a waiver-wire trans­ac­tion meant to give an op­por­tu­nity to some­one else in the pipe­line.

Mov­ing Ar­mia was a nec­es­sary evil to clear valu­able salary-cap space in the form of dump­ing goal­tender Steve Ma­son’s US$4.1-mil­lion con­tract, which Chevel­day­off had signed only a year ear­lier but be­came a ma­jor an­chor. The Mon­treal Cana­di­ens were will­ing to take it on — and then promptly buy Ma­son out and swal­low the cap hit — as long as Win­nipeg gave them some­thing of value. En­ter Ar­mia, the 25-year-old Fin­nish for­ward.

The 16th-over­all pick in the 2011 draft was off to a solid start in a top­six role with the Habs, putting up three goals and four as­sists through his first 15 reg­u­lar-sea­son games. That had him on pace to shat­ter the ca­reer-highs of 12 goals and 17 as­sists he set with Win­nipeg last sea­son in 79 games.

Un­for­tu­nately, a knee in­jury suf­fered ear­lier this month is ex­pected to side­line Ar­mia for the next six to eight weeks. But he ap­pears to have the nec­es­sary tools to be­come an NHL reg­u­lar and per­haps serve as a cau­tion­ary tale for the Jets go­ing for­ward.

Which brings us to Nic Pe­tan, who seems to be the next player in that Bur­mistrov/Dano/Ar­mia mould elic­it­ing strong re­ac­tions from both sup­port­ers and crit­ics. The 23-year-old pend­ing re­stricted free agent is no longer waiver ex­empt and is still strug­gling to carve out a reg­u­lar role in the lineup in his fourth pro sea­son.

If Pe­tan doesn’t have a long-term fu­ture in Win­nipeg — es­pe­cially with other young for­wards such as Lemieux, Ve­salainen and Moose play­ers Ma­son Ap­ple­ton and C.J. Suess knock­ing on the door for reg­u­lar duty — then Chevel­day­off must find a way to sal­vage some­thing for him.

The prospect pool isn’t bot­tom­less. And the Jets are no longer in the po­si­tion where they can af­ford to let an­other one get away for noth­ing.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Jets goal­tender Con­nor Helle­buyck saves a shot from Avalanche de­fence­man Tyson Bar­rie dur­ing Fri­day night’s game at Bell MTS Place.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Avalanche for­ward Marko Dano skates prior to Fri­day’s game against the Jets.

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