Dan Rosen: NHL.COM
NEWARK, N.J. — Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s phone was buzzing with text messages from friends and family members in his hometown of Karlskrona, Sweden. They all wanted to know about No. 16 for the Arizona Coyotes and what’s up with that ridiculous backhanded shot?
That’s Max Domi, Arizona’s 20-year-old rookie forward, Ekman-Larsson told them, and that backhand is only one of the weapons in his arsenal.
“Everybody is talking about him back home,” Ekman-Larsson said. “He’s got a lot of speed, some sick hands and that shot. His backhanded shot is probably one of the best in this League. Unbelievable. So hard. He’s got a lot of good things going on.”
Domi is turning heads around the world with an array of attributes that have made him an instant must-watch player in the NHL. The backhand in question was on display against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 14, when he used it to send a hard, soaring shot off the back of his blade that had enough speed and height to fool goalie Anton Khudobin.
“That was a beautiful goal he scored there, and hopefully it’s a sign of what’s to come,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said.
Domi has scored three goals and has five assists for eight points in seven games this season.
The Coyotes, who are going through a resurgence and have rebranded themselves behind the message that they’re different and they’re not apologizing for it anymore, have a perfect poster boy in Domi. He is everything that is new, exciting and different about the Coyotes.
“This is a young player who has really been a breath of fresh air and given us a spark early,” general manager Don Maloney said.
For what makes Domi different, look no further than the image of his surname.
His father, Tie Domi, grinded through a 16-year NHL career that saw him play 1,020 games and finish third all-time in penalty minutes with 3,515.
Max is absolutely nothing like his father on the ice. He’s a dynamic scorer who can dominate a game with his speed. He’s exactly what the Coyotes didn’t have last season and arguably haven’t had since Jeremy Roenick played in the desert from 1996-2001.
“I think [he’s] a little bit like Martin St. Louis just because I think as he grows and matures, he has such explosiveness plus great offensive instincts,” Maloney said. “Once the game slows down a little bit for him and he can read things a little clearer, I just see him like St. Louis. He puts people on their heels with his speed. He can move. And what’s impressed me is he hasn’t been afraid to shoot the puck, take pucks to the net. A lot of young players defer to others; he’s willing to take the puck and go to the net, put it into the net.”
Domi, however, credited his dad with convincing him to develop his backhand shot. It led him to watch YouTube clips of Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane using their elite backhanded shots to score goals.
“My dad was all over me about watching the game and being a student of the game to learn and get better and then practice that stuff,” Domi said. “My mom would get pretty [mad] at me about that sometimes because she was more focused on schoolwork, but after I got my homework done I was definitely on YouTube watching a lot of guys.”
Domi is also different from most because he’s playing with a disability. He is a Type-1 diabetic and wears No. 16 in honor of Bobby Clarke, who carved out a Hall of Fame career despite living with Type-1 diabetes.
“It’s definitely a lifestyle change,” Domi said. “I was diagnosed when I was 12 years old. You learn a lot. I’ve come a long ways since then. It’s definitely just part of who I am now. I deal with it every day.”
Domi has always felt the NHL is part of who he is too, which makes him unique among a group of rookies that includes Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook and Klas Dahlbeck.
Unlike them, Domi grew up around the League. He was born on March 2, 1995, when his dad was playing for the Winnipeg Jets. Teemu Selanne is one of the first people to hold him as a baby.
Selanne recently went on Twitter to say Domi is his pick to win the Calder Trophy. In addition, Jaromir Jagr told TSN he watched the Coyotes and thought Domi was “[bleeping] unbelievable.”
“It’s awesome and really humbling to hear stuff like that,” Domi said. “They’re two guys I looked up to from a young age.”
Domi also looked up to Hall of Fame center Mats Sundin because he grew up around the Toronto Maple Leafs. Max’s dad was traded to Toronto a month after he was born and played his final 10 NHL seasons with the Maple Leafs.
Sundin became not only an idol, but a friend to this day.
Watching NHL players in general gave Domi insight into what being a pro is all about.
“Probably the biggest thing growing up was seeing how hard they work and how amazing they were off the ice and in the community,” Domi said. “With hockey players, it’s tough to find a bad guy. That was definitely the thing that stood out to me the most. I learned a lot from that.”
Those lessons he learned being around the Maple Leafs have helped Domi have a smooth transition from the Ontario Hockey League to the NHL.
“He’s not in awe of anything,” Tippett said. “His speed and skill stand out; he’s ready to play in the League with that. There’s still a maturity process you have to go through, but a player that’s been around the game, around the dressing rooms, around NHL players his whole life, that’s certainly an advantage.”
“This is not a starry-eyed teenager,” Maloney added. “He’s very comfortable.”
But respectful and humble as well.
“He’s got a great gift and he’s been tremendous, but I think he’s got a good head on his shoulders as well,” Coyotes center Antoine Vermette said. “You can tell he’s doing it the right way, he works hard. I think he wants to be the guy.”
The Coyotes are branding him as a leader of their renaissance, a reason to get excited. Maloney is cognizant of not putting too much pressure on him at this stage, but the early returns are certainly turning some heads, all across the world it seems.
“When you score goals like he did and put up some points,” Ekman-Larsson said, “they’re going to notice you.”