SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes general manager Don Maloney has all but guaranteed that Max Domi will be in the opening-day lineup. Coach Dave Tippett has said the same. Captain Shane Doan gushes over what Domi will add to the roster this season.
It seems the only one not taking Domi’s presence for granted is Domi. When asked Tuesday what realistic expectations for his season would be, Domi nearly cut off the question.
“I just want to make the team,” he said after an informal team skate at the Ice Den. “I’m not looking too far ahead. There’s a lot of young guys here that are trying to come in and earn a spot, too. We’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”
The carrot at the end of the Coyotes’ three consecutive non-playoff seasons is the potential of its deep well of forward prospects. Potential can be a cop-out because it delays present-day accountability without the promise of future returns.
If you’re placing bets on which prospect will impact the roster first, however, Domi carries the best odds. Anthony Duclair got his feet wet with 18 games of NHL action last season, Brendan Perlini has a NHL power forward’s body and Dylan Strome is the No. 1 center of the future, but Domi has put in the most time in the organization. He’s taken the longest strides.
“I think he’s come leaps and bounds from where he was, and the best thing about that is it was his choice,” Coyotes development coach Steve Sullivan said recently when discussing Domi’s play away from the puck and his decision-making when he has the puck. “I don’t think anyone thought he couldn’t do it, but when you get back to the OHL with that kind of skill, there are not enough good players to challenge you consistently to be that all-around player if you are not challenging yourself.”
Domi wanted to make the team last season, but he didn’t sulk when he was sent back to the London Knights to work on what Tippett always calls “the details of the game.”
“If you look at a hockey game, you don’t have the puck for as much as you might think. Most of the game is playing away from the puck, so it’s how you do that and how hard you work,” Domi said. “It’s being in the right places. The game moves at such a high pace. There is a very small window of error. You don’t want to mess that up. You don’t want to think too much. You want it to come naturally.”
Until Domi achieves success at the NHL level, there will be questions about his size, and there will be questions about his skill translating at this level. But he will undoubtedly find himself in a top-six forward position this season — even if Tippett calls it a top-nine — and he will undoubtedly find himself playing with whatever skill the Coyotes can offer.
That is how he can and must impact the team this season and beyond.
“He’s an offensive player and that’s what makes him special,” Doan said. “He’s a guy we’re going to count on, for sure, but as much everyone gets caught up in how talented he is and how amazing he is with the puck — and he is — you still have to have character and that’s what the most exciting thing about him is to me, because he’s already shown that.
“He puts in the work, he listens and he learns. I think he’s going to fit in really well here.”