TORONTO — Max Domi spent so much time at the Air Canada Centre as a kid that he doesn’t even remember the first time he got to skate here.
“Geez, I don’t know,” he said. “You’d have to ask my dad that one.”
For years, Tie Domi’s son was a fixture around the Toronto Maple Leafs. He recalls playing mini-sticks in the wives’ room with Wade Belak and getting to fire pucks at Curtis Joseph, Ed Belfour and Glenn Healy.
The youngest Domi often had the freedom to run around the Leafs dressing room. He got to hang out with Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts, Bryan McCabe and a whole host of others from the last quality teams to call this building home.
It was the kind of childhood most could only dream of and it might help explain, in part, why Domi has made such a big impact in his first few weeks as a full-time member of the Arizona Coyotes.
“He fits into the room really, really well,” captain Shane Doan said before Monday’s game against the Leafs.
“He grew up in this setting his whole life,” added coach Dave Tippett.
Domi doesn’t seem remotely surprised by the fact he’s amassed nine points over his first eight NHL games — tying him for the early rookie lead with Connor McDavid.
Playing for a rebuilding team, and with the benefit of two extra years of junior hockey under his belt since getting drafted, the 20-year-old is already carrying a big load for the Coyotes. Twice he’s logged more than 20 minutes in a game.
Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne are among those who have publicly praised him and the crowd around his locker stall is bigger than any of his teammates each day, yet Domi hasn’t been bothered by the attention.
What separates him from a typical rookie, according to Doan, is his familiarity with the NHL environment. For starters, he already fits in seamlessly with older teammates.
“We’ve had a lot of people come through over my career that are really talented and you’re like: ‘Man that guy’s got so much skill and he’s a great player, he’s fast, he’s all these things,”‘ said Doan. “But you can see that the NHL is kind of going to eat him up because the character isn’t there to be the type of players that lasts 15, 20 years.”
That’s not a concern with Domi, who looks to be a good bet to eclipse his father’s best season (15 goals and 29 points in 2002-03) as a rookie.
While he’s been on the good end of some bounces in the early going — it will be difficult to maintain a 16.7 per cent shooting percentage and impossible to keep his PDO at 117 — Domi should continue getting prime offensive minutes on a team that scored the NHL’s second-fewest goals last season.
The Coyotes patience with his development looks particularly wise right now, with the extra seasons of junior allowing him to mature physically and better prepare himself for the jump to the NHL. Tippett believes the time he put in with the OHL’s London Knights wasn’t that far off what he’s experiencing now.
“Every game he’s played he’s had an impact,” Tippett said of Domi. “There’s still lots to learn and there’s still lots of experiences to be gained, but he’s a very good player and just (has) a great attitude.
“He’s been a real good addition to our team.”
There was certainly a buzz in the air as he prepared to make his first appearance at the ACC as a NHL player. He won a gold medal with Team Canada at the world junior tournament in January the last time he was here.
Domi managed to get a home-cooked meal from his mom on Sunday night and was clearly excited for Monday’s game.
“Getting off the plane, there’s a sense of fresh air,” he said. “Back in Toronto, it’s pretty awesome.”
While some of his teammates playfully grumbled about the huge media contingent forming a semi-circle around his stall, it wasn’t lost on them why a game against the Leafs was more important than others.
“He grew up being in the dressing room just down the hallway,” said Doan. “I think that’s pretty unique. It’s a unique situation to be able to come in and feel that comfortable.
“He’s been wandering around this building and been in areas that no one else gets to go in to.”