SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Captain Shane Doan called over to Max Domi in the Arizona Coyotes locker room and peppered the rookie with questions.
“Have you seen the movie Tombstone?” Doan asked. “Do you know who Wyatt Earp is? Actor Val Kilmer? Ever heard of the O.K. Corral?”
Domi answered no to each question before finally recognizing a name that led to a history lesson by Doan.
“Kurt Russell?” Domi asked. “Yeah, I know him.”
OK, so the rookie doesn’t know movies or history.
He sure knows hockey.
The son of former NHL bruiser Tie Domi, Max Domi has aced his rookie test so far, teaming with fellow rookie Anthony Duclair to lift the Coyotes to a surprising start to the season.
“I really didn’t have an expectation of X amount of goals or points for him,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. “I just hoped he would come in and get a regular amount of ice time and if that happened, the production would follow. That’s just who he is and the way he plays – and that’s what’s happened.”
Behind the speed and talent infusion of Domi and Duclair, the Coyotes have been one of the NHL’s biggest surprises, fifth in the Western Conference at 7-6-1 after being picked by Vegas oddsmakers to be the worst team in the NHL.
The 20-year-old Domi has been one of the league’s best rookies, keeping pace with No. 1 overall draft pick Conner McDavid before the Edmonton Oilers’ budding star broke his collarbone. With McDavid out for an extended time, Domi is among the early front-runners for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s top rookie.
Domi started his NHL career by notching a goal and assist against the Los Angeles Kings to become the first Coyotes rookie to have multiple points in his debut since Doan 20 years ago.
Domi has barely slowed since then. He had a goal against Toronto after his teammates sent him out for a solo warmup in his hometown and scored two goals against Anaheim in a 4-3 overtime win Monday night.
Domi is tied for the NHL rookie lead with seven goals and is second with 13 points.
“I’m having fun,” Domi said. “That’s what it’s all about, having fun and working as hard as you can to win games.”
He had to wait a little while for this opportunity.
A skilled player with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, Domi was the 12th overall pick of the 2013 NHL draft. Instead of rushing him to the NHL, the Coyotes took a cautious approach with the second-generation hockey prodigy.
Arizona has been bitten by bringing players up too fast and the Coyotes weren’t going to change tactics with Domi, no matter how much fans clamoured for him to be with the NHL team. So instead of playing in the NHL, Domi spent two more seasons in London, where he dominated and honed his skills, becoming stronger physically and mentally.
“He probably was above the junior level, but he dominated there and came here ready to go,” Maloney said.
Once Domi arrived in the NHL, he was as ready as any rookie could be.
Tie Domi had a 16-year NHL career that included stops with the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets. He played the final 11 seasons with Toronto, so Max grew up around the game, tagging along to games, hanging out in the locker room, learning from NHL players.
When his time came, Domi slipped into the NHL like it was a comfortable shoe.
“It helped me a lot, just to see how they act on and off the ice and how hard they work,” Domi said. “The consistency in all aspects of life is just unbelievable and for me to have a front row seat to watch that was huge.”
Consistency and discipline have been a part of Domi’s life since he was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes at 12.
He had to alter his diet, monitor his blood-sugar levels and give himself daily injections before switching to a pump that he wears on his hip under his uniform.
It added a layer of maturity and responsibility to Domi, who wears the No. 16 in honour of Hall of Famer Jim Clarke, a diabetic who won the Stanley Cup twice with Philadelphia in a 15-year career.
“The diabetes to us was a health issue that had absolutely no impact on us drafting or not drafting him,” Maloney said. “But there are certain requirements on a daily basis that he has to monitor.
“He has handled it well.”