How often does one hear about a draft prospect whose dad was a pro hockey player and now that kid, who hasn't turned 18 yet, is looking to make his career bigger than his father's career and in fact looks like he might pull it off? Several names could come to mind, with Canadians' Griffin Reinhart or Max Domi being two recent examples of talented, young players following in the footsteps of well-known fathers that are now NHL alumni.
But the same situation is not confined to Canada as there is plenty of next-generation talent now developed in Europe.
This June's NHL Draft will tell hockey fans more about what the career of Slovak phenom Marko Daňo could look like. His dad Jozef is still earning a living via hockey, no longer as a player but rather as the assistant coach of Dukla Trenčín in the Slovak Extraliga where, not long ago, his son was an up-and-coming sensation. A year later, the youngster is in a bigger city and performing on a bigger stage.
Making your Slovak Extraliga debut at the age of 16 is something few hockey players accomplish. That puts Daňo right there with the likes of Marián Gáborík and Marián Hossa, who are also products of the Trenčín hockey team. In comparison to Gáborík in the Slovak Extraliga at the age of 17, the current New York Rangers' goal-scorer piled up twice as many points as Daňo has at the same age, with the younger Trenčín native's play being more all-round in style. This difference in ability won't put Dano above Gáborík in the draft ranks, but that doesn't mean he can't become a valuable player in the NHL. After all, what would hockey be without versatile, hard-working players like Daňo?
Forty games after making his debut for the first team of Dukla Trenčín, two different amateur drafts both saw Daňo being picked in the first round. The WHL's Prince George Cougars chose Dano 60th overall at the 2012 CHL Import Draft, while the KHL's Slovan Bratislava club made sure the top available Slovak prospect plays for the only Slovak team in that league.
In the meantime, Daňo collected some valuable experience at various IIHF tournaments including the Under-18 WJC Division 1A, where he powered Slovakia towards the gold and promotion back to the elite division. This season is the defining one of Daňo's career so far, though.
The Kontinental Hockey League is arguably the second-best hockey league in the world, but it's not really easy comparing it with the American Hockey League because the difference in the style of hockey is great. Daňo managed to earn his spot on a KHL team, helping HC Slovan Bratislava make the playoffs. Meanwhile, he made sure the coaches and scouts noticed his top-notch, third-line performance, although not exclusively in his KHL games.
Where he really opened the eyes of the NHL scouts was at the Under-20 WJC in Ufa, Russia. There, he helped the Slovak national team to not only avoid relegation, but to almost stun big teams like Canada and Russia, which had problems with the Slovaks early in the tournament. His four goals and five assists in six games put him sixth among all scorers in the tournament, on a par with highly touted prospects like Jonathan Huberdeau or Johnny Gaudreau.
It's safe to say that the sooner Daňo gets to North America, the better for his NHL career. He doesn't exactly have the skillset of a Vladimir Tarasenko that would make it easy for him to just jump into the league from Europe, so he'll have to work on adapting his game to the North American style of play.
Whichever way his career goes, one thing is for sure – Daňo is a diamond coming out of a country that seemed to have all of its hockey diamond mines shut down and emptied.
Hockey's Future recently interviewed this rising star from Slovakia, a transcript of which can be found below.
Hockey's Future: How do you like this season as a KHL rookie?
Marko Daňo: The fact that I can play in the KHL at such a young age is awesome. I'm very happy for it, I try to give it all I've got every game and to collect as much experience as I can.
HF: Your team has got incredible fans. Does such amazing fan support motivate you more?
MD: Yes, it does, and it's awesome to see so many fans going all the way to Prague to help us. It's the same during home games when they make noise all the time and that makes us players a lot more motivated. It affects our performance in the best way.
HF: Last year, you were only playing in Slovak Extraliga, which is a level or two below the KHL. What does such a change feel like?
MD: It's a big jump, but there's a lot of games behind us in this season so I feel I got used to it. The beginning in this league was tough, but right now it's alright.
HF: You had a spectacular Under-20 World Junior Championship. What are your feelings about the tournament?
MD: It was a good one, we started out well, but then we started feeling satisfied and maybe a little tired, too. We couldn't keep it going the way we started it, but we avoided relegation. For me, personally, it was an amazing experience. We managed to create a great chemistry in our line which helped us a lot. The most important thing, however, is that we will stay in the elite division.
HF: You look like a sure pick at the upcoming NHL Draft. Are you looking forward to it?
MD: We'll see, I have to finish this season well and then we'll see. I believe I get drafted as high as possible, but it's not so important, I'd be fine if somebody just drafts me. I hope they will give me an opportunity to get to the NHL.
HF: Is there any team you would prefer to draft you?
MD: Tough to say, maybe the New York Rangers.
HF: If you get drafted and don't make the NHL right away, would you possibly go to the AHL or the CHL to get used to the North American style of play?
MD: I don't know, I haven't considered that option yet. I got three years left on my contract with Bratislava so we'll see after the draft what the deal with the team that drafts me looks like. Now it's too early to say.
HF: What would you say about your style of play?
MD: I'm a young forward that tries to get in front of the net, be thorough in checks, I think I know what happens on the ice, have a good vision, passing and finishing.
HF: The number on your jersey is 68 which must remind a lot of people of Jaromír Jágr. Does it come from him?
MD: Actually, my father played with this number when he was a pro hockey player, but I also like Jágr so it's both of them.
HF: Talking about your father, how does he help you with your career?
MD: He was my coach when I played in Trenčín in Slovak Extraliga and he gave me a lot of advice. Now, it's not that intensive, but we talk a lot over the phone and he helps me by telling me what was good or bad in the game.
Follow Radoslav Vavrina on Twitter via @Lightning0563