EDMONTON — After Tuesday’s morning skate at Rogers Place, I asked the Canadiens’ Max Domi if he ever looks at the list of NHL scoring leaders.
“No, not all,” he said.
When informed that heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers he ranked 11th in the NHL with 9-12-21 totals in 17 games — only one point out of the top 10 — Domi said: “Oh, really? Cool.”
Does he know who the last Canadiens player was to finish a season in the top 10 in NHL scoring?
“No,” Domi said.
When informed it was Mats Naslund, who finished eighth in the 1985-86 season with 43-67-110 totals, Domi said: “Oh, really? that’s pretty cool.”
Actually, it’s more sad than cool to think that a franchise that has won a record 24 Stanley Cups hasn’t had a single player finish in the top 10 in NHL scoring in 32 years. Goalie Antti Niemi, 35, and captain Shea Weber, 33, are the only two current Canadiens who were alive when Naslund finished eighth in NHL scoring and the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1986. They have only won one more Cup since, in 1993.
Domi scored his 10th goal of the season in the Canadiens’ 6-2 loss to the Oilers Tuesday night to move into eighth place in the NHL scoring race with 10-12-22 totals, trailing league leader Connor McDavid of the Oilers (10-16-26) by only four points. McDavid picked up three assists against the Canadiens.
The only thing more surprising than Domi’s fast start with the Canadiens is how the heck did he only score nine goals last season with the Arizona Coyotes — including four empty-netters — a total he has already passed this year?
“I think the one thing I see from watching him last year … he seems like he’s really excited to be with us,” coach Claude Julien said about Domi. “He’s skating well, he’s playing with lots of confidence right now. He’s definitely shooting more. We had a good chat about that at the beginning of the year and I told him I’d love to see him think sometimes shot first before looking to pass and he’s really bought into that and it’s paying off for him. He’s looking really good. Every game he’s creating some stuff. So he’s been a really good addition to our team and happy that he’s excited to be here and happy that he’s doing so well.”
There’s no doubt Domi has enjoyed the Montreal spotlight since being acquired from Arizona during the off-season in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk, who had 3-5-8 totals in his first 10 games with the Coyotes after recovering from a preseason lower-body injury.
“It’s very different,” Domi said about playing in Montreal. “Not to say it’s better or worse than where I was before. I have a lot of good memories from Arizona, I had a lot of unbelievable teammates and that’s where I started my career. So I have nothing bad to say about Arizona. But definitely proud to be a Montreal Canadien and I’m really enjoying every second of it right now.
“You get lucky every once in a while, right?” Domi added about his fast start. “You just got to ride that wave.”
A lot more than luck is responsible for Domi’s performance. He works just as hard as Brendan Gallagher — OK, nobody works as hard as Gallagher, but Domi is close — and has better skills. He has also made Jonathan Drouin a better player by allowing him to move to left wing while Domi has filled the No. 1 centre position.
Domi wears No. 13 in honour of former Toronto Maple Leafs centre Mats Sundin, who was his father Tie’s teammate and became like an uncle to him. Did Sundin help Domi become the player he is now with some offensive tips?
“It’s not like when I was 6 or 7 years old Mats was telling me to run the half wall like this, come off the wall like this and shoot here, shoot there,” Domi said with a smile. “No, not at all. I think as kids we all just kind of really enjoy watching the game and learning and picking out certain guys that we’re drawn to. For me it was guys like Patrick Kane and Pavel Datsyuk and just the stuff that they could do on the ice with the puck and how they’d make their linemates better and create space for them and set them up and be threats with the puck as well.
“Just watching guys like that over and over and over again … the beauty of YouTube,” Domi added. “I know that technology nowadays isn’t always the greatest thing in the world, but for me as a kid to be in the loop with the hockey world and to learn and to just kind of self-educate and watch those guys and see how they kind of handled themselves on the ice is just kind of how I turned into the player I am today.”
Unfortunately, there aren’t many Mats Naslund YouTube videos from 32 years ago that Domi could watch now.