ANTHONY PEREZ : Today’s Slapshot
When the Coyotes selected forward Max Domi with the 12th overall selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, they knew they had a special player on their hands.
The organization arguably hadn’t drafted a bona fide, grade-A offensive talent since their first draft as Arizona residents (1996) when they selected Daniel Briere with the 24th-overall pick.
There were glimmers of hope along the way. Krystofer Kolanos (selected 19th overall in 2000) never panned out, the same with Fredrik Sjostrom (selected 11th overall in 2001). Blake Wheeler was supposedly good enough to be taken fifth overall in 2004, but the Coyotes never got to reap the rewards as he forced his way out of Arizona. Peter Mueller (selected eighth overall in 2006) never seemed to recover from a concussion, while Kyle Turris (selected third overall in 2007) unceremoniously exited after he asked to be traded during the 2011-12 season.
And even when some of those offensive prospects have made it to the big club, they sometimes seemed unprepared for the rigors of playing in the NHL. Case in point: Viktor Tikhonov.
Taken with the 28th overall selection in 2008, the Latvia native spent most of his following season with the Coyotes. He struggled to gain any traction with the big club and finished the season with 16 points (8g, 8a) in 61 games.
Tikhonov would spend the next two seasons bouncing back and forth between the AHL and KHL before becoming a full-time KHL player in the Fall of 2011. He barely found his way back to the NHL this month by way of Chicago, but had his development been properly managed under the Wayne Gretzky regime there’s no telling where or what type of player he would be right now.
And that’s why General Manager Don Maloney treaded ever so lightly when dealing with Max Domi. He saw the organizational track record for both draft and developing players and fully knew that players the caliber of Domi don’t typically fall in your lap with the 12th pick in the Entry Draft.
Quite frankly, he knew that if he botched this it would set the organization back, especially considering that the Coyotes don’t have the financial resources of a franchise like Montreal or Chicago to be big free agent spenders and they need to develop “homegrown” talent much the way Tampa Bay and Anaheim have.
Of course, the decision last October to send Domi back down to his OHL team in London wasn’t so cut and dry. Despite some pundits thinking last season was “his time,” he didn’t wow the Coyotes brass in the exhibition season and didn’t make the team when camp broke in October. This led to Maloney telling the media that maybe the “10 game rule” that limits when junior eligible players can to be returned to their junior clubs should be altered a bit.
Fearing that Domi would get bored or his development would stall in London, Coyotes fans openly questioned the decision, but in hindsight it was a genius move by Maloney and his staff.
Instead of toiling away for a Coyotes team in a season that was lost early, Domi used his last season in junior to get even better. The native of Winnipeg posted 102 points (32g, 70a) in 57 regular season games, while also posting another 10 points (5g, 5a) in seven games at the World Junior Championships, helping lead Team Canada, which featured teammate Anthony Duclair, to a gold medal.
The patience, coupled with an understanding of what Domi means to this franchise both now and in the future, could start to pay large dividends for the Coyotes in the near future.