Is Max Domi emerging as a bonafide second-line centre?

Canadiens forward Max Domi discusses what he likes most about playing centre, meanwhile Jonathan Drouin and Coach Julien are hard-pressed to find any weaknesses with Domi’s transition.

It took Max Domi 10 games to score as many goals that weren’t on empty nets as he got all of last season — and after 11 games he’s sitting pretty at a point per game pace, endearing himself to Canadiens fans not just with his point production, but with flashy play and not shying away from the dirty areas.

The hottest shooting streak of Domi’s career is partially to credit for his excellent start, but I don’t think we should disregard the excellent work he’s done to create the offence he’s produced.

It hasn’t just been a hot shooting percentage streak — Domi has produced the best offensive numbers of his career.

Domi has been a perimeter shooter for most of his career, with an average attempt coming about 10.15 metres from the net, which is quite far out. This season he’s cut that down to 8.79 metres – in fact, 55.2 per cent of his shot attempts are coming from the slot, as opposed to just 42.9 per cent last season.

Couple that improvement in shot locations with an increase in shot volume at 5-on-5 and it’s easy to see why an infrequent shooter like Domi is surprising goalies, who have become used to him overpassing the puck.

Converting on more than 20 per cent of his shots isn’t something that will last all season, but don’t be surprised if Domi hits career highs in goals and shooting percentage because he’s been more aggressive with the puck.

Domi has long been one of the league’s top playmakers at 5-on-5. That went under the radar in Arizona as they didn’t have many scorers to pair him with, which isn’t really any different in Montreal.

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On the surface it appears Domi has been making fewer passes into the slot this season, but he’s actually attempting the same number of them, it’s just his success rate has fallen. That could be concerning if it continues, but I think part of the reason for it is his teammates are still getting used to how hard he passes the puck.

I’ve seen a few people comment that he passes the puck like it’s a live grenade, and it’s true he absolutely wires it. But eventually teammates should get used to the speed of his passes and start to turn some of those attempts into shots, which is a reason why I can see Artturi Lehkonen breaking out this season.

Perhaps the biggest component to Domi’s excellent start, though, is his play off the rush.

He has been attacking teams with speed to an absurd degree, making things tough on defenders and goalies, and a big reason for that is Claude Julien’s system seems tailor made to Domi’s skill set.

You can’t just decide to make more plays off the rush. That work has to be put in before you get into the offensive zone, and Domi leads all Canadiens players in transition plays this year.

Overall, Domi is completing almost 26 transition plays per 20 minutes of ice time at 5-on-5 this season, which is 25 per cent better than any other year of his career. This can be traced to how the Canadiens’ system values carrying the puck out of the defensive zone, and it doesn’t hurt that Domi is paired with another dangler in Jonathan Drouin.

Drouin has had trouble creating offence at 5-on-5 this season, but getting into the offensive zone has never been a problem for him — the trio (with Lehkonen) combine for more than 15 controlled entries per 20 minutes, which makes them an extremely dangerous line off the rush.

Domi has been the conductor of all this transition play, establishing the routes with crisp passes, and carrying the puck more than anyone else on the Canadiens.

After an off year last season where Domi struggled to move the puck up the ice, this year has seen a 64.5 per cent improvement in his transition game so far. In fact, only five forwards in the entire league have been more effective at moving the puck up the ice this season: Mathew Barzal, Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Sebastian Aho, and Dylan Larkin.

Those are all players who are either established stars or verging on star status, so it should give you an idea of just how impressive Domi’s individual play has been.

It’s all this transition work that makes attacking off the rush possible in the first place. And if Domi’s linemates can get their games going a bit more on offence, you could see Domi look like a legitimate top-six centre all year long.

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