By Mike G. Morreale – NHL.com Staff Writer
As much as NHL scouts and general managers would have you believe they knew all along their top NHL Draft choice would one day be a success story, the fact is each player has a different timetable to when that script actually begins to take shape.
|PAST TWO WEEKS
|Shots on goal
|Shots on goal
Arizona Coyotes left wing Max Domi, chosen No. 12 in the 2013 NHL Draft, needed two more seasons with London in the Ontario Hockey League before finally earning a top-six role in the League this season.
It appears Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, selected No. 2 in the 2015 draft, needed almost half an NHL season to discover his comfort level among the best hockey players in the world.
The bottom line is they each are proving to be valuable assets as rookies for the respective teams, and doing it in all sorts of different ways.
In September 2014, NHL.com spoke to a few scouts about what Domi needed to do to crack the Coyotes lineup. Some pointed to Domi’s 5-foot-9, 197-pound frame as a hindrance to his development. Others felt it was just maturity. But there were others who believed he was ready to be an NHL regular.
One scout who works for an Eastern Conference team told NHL.com that while Domi has good upside he needed to use his linemates more effectively.
In his final season with London in 2014-15, Domi had a career-high 70 assists and 102 points. He ranks second among NHL rookies with 18 assists this season and is tied for first in primary assists with Chicago Blackhawks rookie Artemi Panarin.
The same scout also said Domi would need to prove his worth on the other side of the puck. He ranks among the top 15 rookie forwards in defensive zone faceoffs, blocked shots and steals.
“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.”
In a 4-3 shootout loss at the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 2, Domi and rookie teammate Anthony Duclair executed a highlight-reel 2-on-1 breakout, punctuated by a saucer pass from Domi onto the tape of Duclair for a goal against Cam Talbot. It was further proof of the maturity and playmaking ability that Domi has to offer each game.
“[Coyotes defenseman Klas Dahlbeck] made a great play to get the puck out, and me and [Duclair] were gone with a lot of speed,” Domi said. “We practice that play a lot in practice. I just gave him the puck and he was able to finish, it was a nice goal.”
“After watching Max and Anthony on that goal, we were laughing on the bench; I said I don’t have that anywhere in my repertoire,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan told NHL Network. “I have no sauce [pass] like that. Just watching [Domi] and [Duclair] mature and the way they act, they are such good guys and amazing players. It’s been so fun watching them and they’re way ahead of anything I was ever expecting.”
The same could be said for Eichel, who enters the game against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday with points in eight of his past 10 games.
Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien recently had this assessment of Eichel:
“He’s a gifted player,” Julien told NESN.com. “I think he sees the ice well. I love his hockey sense. He’s one of those guys that’s strong on the puck. For his age, I think his maturity level not just intellectually, but also physically, is pretty good for a guy his age.”
Eichel, 19, has been shifted throughout the lineup but primarily in a top-six role, gaining experience with different players possessing different styles. He recently centered a line with Zemgus Girgensons and captain Brian Gionta.
“The line’s been quite good,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma told BuffaloNews.com. “They’ve gotten a number of opportunities. Jack’s been really good with his speed and creating.”
In addition to ranking second among rookies in goals, Eichel is becoming pretty good at finding the open linemate, even when his back might be to that player. In a 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Jan. 5, Eichel sent a no-look backhand pass across the crease to forward Ryan O’Reilly for a one-timer past goalie Roberto Luongo.
Oilers center Connor McDavid, meanwhile, will not return to the lineup until after the All-Star break, according to coach Todd McLellan.
The No. 1 selection in the 2015 draft has been out since fracturing his left clavicle in a 4-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 3. McDavid returned to Oilers practice Jan. 1, but is not ready for game action.
The NHL All-Star weekend is Jan. 30-31 in Nashville.
“I mean originally they said four months [to heal],” McDavid told the Oilers website. “So to come back before the All-Star break, I think would be rushing it a little bit too much … I think it just gives myself an extra couple of days, even a week, to get some extra bone healing and get ready to play.”