Canadiens’ Max Domi back at practice, figures to be key piece vs. Penguins

Max Domi joined the Montreal Canadiens for practice on Monday for the first time, and Sportsnet's Eric Engels discusses what this means for Domi being able to travel and play with the team in the playoffs.

BROSSARD, Que. — After weeks of speculation as to whether or not Max Domi would participate in Phases 3 and 4 of the NHL’s return-to-play protocol, the centreman was at Montreal Canadiens practice on Monday.

Domi, who’s a type-1 diabetic and has Celiac disease, was given seven to 10 days from the onset of training camp last Monday to make a decision on his participation. As Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin explained last week, Domi wanted as much assurance as possible that he’d be in a safe and controlled environment given that people with his medical condition are in a higher risk category should they contract COVID-19.

It was clear Domi felt assured when he emerged as part of Montreal’s second power-play unit prior to this Monday’s practice. He then participated in full with Laurent Dauphin and Alex Belzile as wingers.

“He’s on board. Obviously he’s back,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said about the 25-year-old Winnipeg native. “But we know that, in his case, if there’s ever anything that happens that would put him at risk, he could leave.”

Julien noted that Domi had skated several times on his own in Toronto before joining the Canadiens at practice on Monday.

As for Domi’s conditioning, Julien said he’ll give him time to catch up.

“For now, it was a good first day for him and a day where he realized the pace is pretty high for a group that’s been practising for the last week,” Julien said. “It was good to see him and he appears really positive and very pleased that we have a group here that appears to be in real good health.”

Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was particularly pleased to see Domi with the group.

“It was really good to see him today,” Price said. “He brings a lot of enthusiasm to our locker room and on the ice. He’s a vocal guy and he’s got a unique laugh that everybody likes to hear.”

Domi was all smiles on the ice as he worked his way through drills.

As to where he’ll fit into Julien’s lineup, the coach said that’s yet to be determined.

“I’m not there yet,” Julien said. “We still have the rest of the week before we play our first game against Toronto. We have a lot of time to make adjustments and also a lot of time where things can happen that can force certain adjustments. So there’s no point in cementing myself on certain decisions. There are already some lines intact that we know well, there are already certain players we know will be in our lineup, but we’ll take our time with everything else.”

One of the decisions Julien will have to make is whether to play Domi at centre or move him to the wing.

The bulk of Domi’s 36 goals and 135 points in his first 222 games as an NHLer, and as a member of the Arizona Coyotes, were scored from the wing. But since coming to Montreal via trade in the summer of 2018, his 45 goals and 116 points in 153 games were mostly produced from the centre position.

“He can play both,” said Julien in response to a question about where he’d prefer to play Domi. “The question is a question, it’s a good question. I think he can play both, so there’s no issues there. And that’s the good part about a lot of these players, where there’s a versatility in their game that can be used at both.

“I keep saying it over and over again—anyone who can play centre can play wing, but somebody who’s never played the centre position and plays wing can have a hard time. We’re blessed to have a lot of players who can play both positions.”

Regardless of where Domi lines up, Julien feels he’ll be an important factor in Montreal’s play-in series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, which is scheduled to begin in Toronto, on Aug. 1.

“We’re adding a player with a lot of offensive ability,” Julien said. “We’re adding a player who has experience in the NHL. Every year, he’s in our top three or four scorers. So, when a player like that joins your group, it’s a plus.”

Domi is expected to make his first public comments since May 14 following practice on Tuesday.

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