Max Domi was having trouble winning faceoffs against a particular center in juniors. So his dad, former NHL enforcer Tie Domi, made a call to NHL legend Mark Messier.
Messier, who won six Stanley Cups in his 25-year career, happened to be in the Toronto area, so he told the Domis to meet him at a nearby restaurant. Instead of giving verbal pointers over pasta, Messier found a clear space in the dining room and gave Max a hands-on demonstration of effective techniques.
“I never lost a faceoff after that,” Max said, laughing.
That Domi takes pride in the finer points of the game like faceoffs, gritty play and hard work was surely a factor in the Coyotes selecting him with their first pick (12th overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft Sunday in New Jersey. Coyotes coach Dave Tippett embodied that style of play in his career, and he demands it from behind the bench.
“I know I have to work hard every shift work and be responsible in my own end,” Domi said. “Dave Tippett is one of the best coaches in the league, and you have to do all the little things right to play for him.”
But the Coyotes didn’t draft Domi to be a role player whose contributions go unnoticed on the score sheet. Unlike his dad, who posted an NHL-record 333 fights and 3,515 career penalty minutes, Max has offensive skill to burn, as this ridiculous video shows.
“Once we drafted him, our scouts thought he immediately became the highest rated and most skilled player we have in this organization,” general manager Don Maloney said.
Before the draft, Maloney tipped his hand as to what he’d be seeking when he said, “What I’ve found the last few years is that if you don’t have centermen, it’s very hard to acquire them, so you should look to draft them.”
The Coyotes have been looking for an elite center at least since Jeremy Roenick left, so that’s exactly what Phoenix did with four of its six picks in Domi, Laurent Dauphin of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Chicoutimi Saguenee, Pavel Laplante of Prince Edward Island in the QMJHL and Jed Soleway of Penticton in the BCHL. All four play center.
“That’s just sort of the way the draft flowed for us,” Maloney said. “But it certainly worked for us from the standpoint of addressing a weakness.”
Phoenix traded the 42nd and 73rd overall selections to New Jersey in exchange for the 39th pick and the right to choose Dauphin. He had 25 goals and 57 points last season. The Coyotes loves his skill and hockey smarts, but he will need to time to develop in the minors and to fill out his 165-pound frame. Domi’s future is less clear.
Maloney is extremely cautious about raising expectations for young players. The Coyotes learned a valuable lesson when they brought Kyle Turris up to the club at too young an age. Maloney believes that decision negatively impacted Turris’ development.
However, with Domi’s physical stature, Maloney wouldn’t rule out an immediate impact.
“He’s a very mature kid,” Maloney said. “We’re the last team that’s ever going to rush anybody to the NHL, but he’ll be 195 pounds come training camp. He’s strong, he has that low center of gravity and that body type he got from his dad (Tie). I think he’ll make a run at a roster spot.”
Domi had played center for most of his career until the last couple years of junior hockey when he moved to the wing on a stacked team. He may eventually become a center in Phoenix, but given Phoenix’s weakness at left wing, he might have an opportunity in training camp there in September.
Domi spent the last two seasons with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. The 18-year-old had a team-leading 39 goals and 48 assists while posting a plus-33 rating in 64 games this past season. He also had 11 goals and 21 assists in 21 playoff games. The previous year, his first in the OHL, he had 21 goals and 28 assists while finishing at plus-13, then added nine points in 19 postseason games.
“I like to score goals,” Domi quipped.
Domi’s selection made this the third straight year in which the Coyotes used their first-round pick on the son of a former NHL player. The previous two years, the Coyotes selected defenseman Connor Murphy (Gord Murphy) and center Henrik Samuelsson (Ulf Samuelsson) with their first-round selections.
The NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau had the 5-foot-10, 198-pound Domi ranked as the No. 19 prospect overall. His size won’t make it easy for him to win puck battles in the NHL, where the average player is much bigger.
But Domi was schooled in the skill game by such greats as Messier, Mats Sundin, Doug Gilmour and Sidney Crosby. He also got a few pointers on grit from his dad that helped bring an edge to his game. And he’s learned a little about overcoming adversity, too.
Domi was diagnosed with type 1 juvenile diabetes several years ago and monitors his blood-sugar levels “about 10 times a day.” During intermissions, he sometimes eats and drinks just to keep those levels in check, and during games, he wears an insulin pump.
“It’s just another challenge that you learn to handle in a positive way,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and how to take care of my body by being disciplined and staying in good shape off the ice.
“It’s like my size — I really don’t look at it as that big of a deal anymore.”