ON NOVEMBER 19, 2020 AT 8:05 AM @daniel_dukart
To say that Max Domi has been on a rollercoaster in the first five years of his NHL career would be an understatement.
After being selected with the 12th pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, the then-Arizona Coyotes prospect had a fantastic rookie campaign, posting 18-34-52 in 81 games and finishing 6th in Calder Trophy voting behind the likes of Artemi Panarin, Connor McDavid, and Jack Eichel.
After his entry-level deal came to an end, he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens for the difficult-to-project (and noted suitcase) Alex Galchenyuk. And just like his first year in Arizona, he came out guns blazing in his Canadiens debut season, tallying a career-high 28-44-72 in 82 games. Then, late in 2019-20, he fell out of favor, posting just 11 points in his final 27 games with the Habs.
The consternation appears tied to the idea that Domi considers himself a center, but the Canadiens went with Philip Danault and Nick Suzuki as their top six-centers, and ultimately played Domi in a third-line capacity on the left-wing alongside rookie center Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Paul Byron.
Simply put, Domi believes he’s a center – and a good one – and the Canadiens went a different direction. Enter the Blue Jackets, who needed a top-six center in the worst way.
Domi knows the opportunity in front of him. Whoever the Blue Jackets second-line center was a year ago (Boone Jenner? Alexander Wennberg?) has moved on, either to a new position (left wing for Jenner) or to a new team (the Florida Panthers for Wennberg). And while the Blue Jackets brought in Mikko Koivu, it’s absurd to imagine he could be anything more than a 3C (personally I think he’s a 4C) at this point in his career. And while Jenner, Kevin Stenlund, and Riley Nash are also center options, none inspire confidence in a top-six role.
Just as importantly, he has the support from management:
“We got a centerman that we have been looking for in Max Domi, and he’s going to fill a hole for us that we’ve been looking to fill for a long time and are excited about him joining our club,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He brings a lot of different qualities that we are looking for. He’s competitive, he’s feisty, he plays with a chip on his shoulder, he has good hockey sense, he has speed. So he’s going to bring a lot of those things into our club. He plays like a Blue Jacket.”
The Canadiens likely underutilized Domi, who played under 15:00 in four of the Canadiens six playoff games against the Philadelphia Flyers in August. Manual player tracking data from Corey Sznajder shows that Domi was the team’s most effective puck transporter and most dangerous playmaker in the offensive zone in 2019-20. And while his defense leaves something to be desired, the Blue Jackets are confident that playing him in a tight forechecking system should help disguise some of his warts.
As former Maple Leafs staffer Jack Han notes in his piece about Domi’s worth, “Domi’s modus operandi – attacking the middle, looking for space and making quick passing plays – is a way of playing worth embracing for his future teams.”
Domi can expect to play a big role on the power play, which has been a struggle for the Blue Jackets for a number of seasons. And with his calling card being his high-end passing abilities, it could help resurrect a power play that has some quality pieces in place.
At 5v5, playing alongside someone like Cam Atkinson or Oliver Bjorkstrand, Domi can use his playmaking ability to propel the Blue Jackets offense to new heights. And riding shotgun alongside Pierre-Luc Dubois, the club has a formidable one-two punch at center ice for the first time in years.