Meet Max Domi.
We mean the real Max Domi. He’s not just the guy who you’ve been watching on YouTube; not just the guy whose statistics may have underwhelmed you when you frantically searched for something that might tell you the Montreal Canadiens made a wise decision in trading 24-year-old Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes for him on Friday night.
Domi’s a well-spoken, mature kid, who is eager to prove he can be every bit as dynamic as a player as he was in his rookie season when he scored 18 goals and 52 points.
“I’m a guy that works hard every shift and leaves it all out there,” Domi said during a 20-minute conference call Saturday. “I’m on the puck, I hound the puck a lot and will do whatever [I] gotta do to help [my] teammates out.”
That was Domi’s scouting report on himself. Shane Doan, who spent the entirety of his 21-year NHL career with the Winnipeg/Phoenix/Arizona organization, was happy to help fill in some of the blanks.
The two were teammates from 2015-17, and Doan scored 28 goals—in the twilight of his career—as Domi’s linemate three years ago.
“Everyone loves playing with Max,” Doan told Sportsnet. “You play with Max and he does all the dirty work to get you the puck. He does the things where he wins races and creates turnovers with his speed and his quickness and I think that’s the part that I enjoyed. When I got to play with Max, it was just so much fun to play with him.
“He’s a dynamic, powerful playmaker. That’s really what he is. Max Domi at his best makes his linemates all the way better. At his best, everyone else on the ice is better when he’s out there.”
It goes without saying that had Domi been at his best on a regular basis in Arizona, he wouldn’t have been traded to Montreal. A sophomore output of 38 points in 59 games didn’t feel like a step forward, and a disastrous start to the 2017-18 season was an outright regression.
But, the way Doan sees it, all of that was part of the process young talents like Domi–and Galchenyuk–go through in the NHL.
“He had such a great first year. He had almost 20 goals and over 50 points on a team that wasn’t that good and he just continued to contribute and help out,” Doan said. “I think it’s more that the last couple of years, it’s the idea that it’s hard to not take a breath when you work as hard as you have to work to get to the NHL. To not take a breath for a second is tough. He took a bit of a breath his second year and doing that makes you realize how hard the game is.
“This past year was tough with the fact that the team was just in a tough situation where they couldn’t win at the beginning of the year, and they couldn’t seem to find that one goal, and I think Max thought he should be the guy scoring it every time. He’s the leader, the leader in the room, and he probably felt a bit more responsibility. Him and [Coyotes defenceman] Oliver Ekman-Larsson really tried to take it on their own shoulders, but that made it a little bit more difficult.”
It got to a point where Domi’s confidence took a hit.
“When you go out there and you know you can do stuff, you do it,” said Domi. “As soon as you start second guessing that or questioning yourself to any extent, that’s where you run into trouble. I’m not saying I was doing that to an extent, but obviously, when your team’s struggling, and you take more of that upon yourself, it really adds up and you let it linger.”
The good news for Domi is that he found a way to let it go down the stretch last season, scoring 18 points in his final 20 games.
It was a performance—among other things—that helped convince Canadiens’ general manager Marc Bergevin to acquire him and sign him to a two-year contract extension worth $6.3 million.
“The potential is there,” said Bergevin at his press conference Saturday. “You saw the numbers he ran in junior. I remember him at the world juniors he was one of the best players on the ice every night. So there’s a lot there. To me it’s untapped. Sometimes a change of address brings the best in a player.”
And sometimes a bit of seasoning tips you over the edge.
“You don’t really understand what it is to be a pro until you’ve played close to 300 games,” said Doan. “Hypothetically you can be a 25 or 30 goal scorer, but that means you’re probably only scoring in 20 or 25 games. So for the other 60 games, you have to ask yourself, ‘How do I contribute?’ That’s what you figure out in the first 300 games you play in the league.
“You say to yourself, ‘I need to be on the right side of the puck, I need to finish my check and do all these things to help my team win.’ Guys don’t really read the game as well until they hit that age where they have that experience.
“The instant gratification of scoring a goal and hitting the highlight reel isn’t what matters most in the grand scheme of things. It’s a mental game. You have to figure out how to do things right and be a pro, and then things snowball for you the right way.”
It’s a truth that applies to both players in this trade. Galchenyuk (418 games) and Domi (222 games) are both at a tipping point in their respective careers.
This is the chance to show they’ve garnered the experience to be consistent producers and well-rounded professionals, and how they treat it will ultimately decide who wins this deal in the end.
Domi’s confident he’ll hold up his end, and Doan believes he will too.
“I think he’s really close to reaching his potential,” said Doan. “It’s not even a growth thing; it’s more just getting on the right side of momentum. I don’t care how good of a player you are, you’re mental aspect of it is huge. It’s what makes good players great or good players below average just because they can’t get on the right side of it. Max has it. I really expect him to be great in Montreal for the Canadiens. He will love it. He enjoys playing in the pressure situations, and he enjoys the expectations being high.”