The Montreal Canadiens acquired Max Domi from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk. While it appears that Arizona got the better player in the trade, Domi does bing his own set of skills with him.
Through three years of his NHL career so far, Domi has 36 goals and 99 assists, following up a successful junior career with good production at the top level. It’s hard to argue he will be an upgrade over Galchenyuk, who had 85 assists in that time and added 30 goals in the 2016-17 season alone, but there are some encouraging signs for Domi’s ability to help the offence.
Of those 99 assists, 65 of them have been primary helpers, as Domi played a direct role in setting up what little offence the Coyotes (ranking 27th in the NHL with 605 goals in that period) were able to produce. He had 47 primary assists at five-on-five; just under half of his career assists have been passes that directly set up a goal at full strength.
His rookie season coincided with the second from Anthony Duclair, and the pair immediately rediscovered the chemistry they displayed at the 2015 World Juniors that the Coyotes hoped for when acquiring Duclair from the New York Rangers. Domi set up eight of Duclair’s 20 goals in 2015-16, and also fed the shot of Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the power play to post great results in his first year.
He had a new target in 2016-17, assisting on just three Duclair goals, but seven from a returning Radim Vrbata, including six at five-on-five. Domi’s offence was more spread out in 2017-18, and was highlighted by passes to defencemen, most notably connecting with Kevin Connauton four times in a resurgent season for the blue-liner.
The results paint a picture of the Habs’ newest addition being able to set up volume shooters, and that ability shining through even when the opposition has five skaters on the ice trying to prevent it.
That playmaking ability is something that the Canadiens lost much of with their off-season moves last season. One of the biggest losses was Alexander Radulov, perhaps the team’s most valuable player in 2016-17. Domi is in a similar mould of a hard-working player able to create offence for his teammates from the wing. His offensive game isn’t complemented by the goal-scoring ability Radulov has shown in his career, and that’s one of the criticisms of a move made by a team already struggling to score.
Fortunately, it’s not as if the Canadiens don’t have anyone capable of putting the puck in the net. Brendan Gallagher set a new career high in goals, and Paul Byron posted a second consecutive 20-goal campaign.
The shooters didn’t fare so well, however. You need look no further than perennial 30-goal-scorer Max Pacioretty posting just 17 goals last season to see that the offensive potential of the Canadiens was significantly limited. Artturi Lehkonen followed up a strong 18-goal rookie season with just 12 in his second year in the league, and Charles Hudon was much more involved in the offensive zone than his total of 10 goals suggests.
Domi’s tenacity and vision can help the offence. Like the three shooters mentioned above, however, he’s also a left-hand shot, meaning one of those wingers needs to shift to the right side where his stick will be more open for a shot, but puck protection and defensive coverage could become more difficult. Right now, you would think he has to slot in alongside Pacioretty to aid in restoring the captain’s usual offensive contribution, but Lehkonen likely makes more sense as his linemate, as the two have fairly complementary skill sets.
Domi’s presence may force opposing goaltenders to attempt more acrobatic saves than we saw in 2017-18 when a lack of offensive zone creativity had most shots hitting their crests.
Max Domi should become an important contributor to the team in 2018-19, though whether he will have more of an impact on the offence than Alex Galchenyuk showed even last season is in question. He can’t do anything about the lack of a centre that perhaps should have been on the team in his place, but he has proven he can handle some of the playmaking aspects you’d expect from that position.