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Breaking down the Max Domi trade

The Hurricanes acquired 27-year-old forward Max Domi on trade deadline Monday, in an attempt to bolster their depth scoring.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Columbus Blue Jackets Gaelen Morse-USA TODAY Sports

With the Carolina Hurricanes currently sitting atop the Metro Division and firmly in the midst of one of their strongest seasons in franchise history, expectations are running at an all-time high through the fanbase. Combine the success with an untimely four-game losing streak leading into the trade deadline, and naturally a large portion of Canes faithful became hungry for a transaction in order to boost the current group as the team heads into a fourth straight playoff run.

Sometimes, not making a move is the best move, as only one team can win the Stanley Cup and, therefore, you have multiple teams each year purging future assets on rental players just to flame out in the playoffs anyway. As the saying goes, trading futures for rentals is only worth it if/when your team hoists the Cup, which is a mantra that Don Waddell has adopted over the years. The Canes made is abundantly clear they wouldn’t purge any future first-round picks to bolster their roster with a rental player — a sentiment that they stuck too.

And, actually, the Canes didn’t trade any of their future draft picks at all — but they did trade prospect defenseman Aidan Hreschuk, who was a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. They did so to acquire 27-year-old forward Max Domi from the Columbus Blue Jackets, son of the legendary goon, Tie. Without further ado, let’s analyze the trade and break down what it means for the Canes moving forward into the stretch run of their season.

What The Canes Are Getting In Max Domi

A former first-round pick of the (then) Phoenix Coyotes in 2013, it’s kind of been a whirlwind for Max Domi since he entered the league as a regular in 2015. He was a bright spot for the Coyotes as a youngster, scoring at a 45+ point pace for three straight seasons until he was traded to Montreal for Alex Galchenyuk. In Montreal, he had an extreme breakout season in 2017-18 with 28 goals and 72 points in 82 games — which led the team by a wide margin and had Domi looking like a rising star.

Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t replicate that success the following year and was then traded (again); this time to Columbus, where he’s spent the past two seasons. It’s been pretty up and down for him as a Blue Jacket. He has 18 goals and 56 points across 107 games and has played mostly as a winger, despite having his best career success as a center. His ice-time has also gradually dipped, but notably a lot of his production has come at even-strength, which is inspiring.

He’s currently wrapping up a 2-year deal that carries a $5.3 million AAV, and is set to be an unrestricted free agent in the summer. Whether the Canes have any interest in re-signing him or not can’t be speculated until we actually see him play some games for the club, and time will tell how he adjusts. The Canes are the fourth team he’ll play for over the past four years, so he’s no stranger to having to adapt to a new group.

As far as his on-ice impact, Domi can be a bit of a mixed bag but when he’s engaged, he’s a pretty effective player. He’s really good at getting under his opponent’s skin, and isn’t afraid to get down and dirty with his fists. He’s at his best when he’s playing freely as an agitator, and can be a spark plug for a Canes group that has a lot more finesse than grit. He’s also a creative offensive player. His hands can be underrated at times, and his vision is pretty high level. He’s an effective playmaker, with good patience and distribution ability. His release is quick, but he doesn’t look to shoot consistently.

As you can see in the graph above, where Domi struggles is on the defense side of the puck. He’s been quite sheltered in Columbus this season — over 60% of his shifts have started in the offensive zone and that still hasn’t made him any less of a liability. Because of that, the Canes would probably benefit by playing him on Jordan Staal’s wing — the hope being that Domi can help create some offensive looks for Staal, and Staal can help suppress the amount of scoring chances against with Domi out there. In theory, it could be a nice fit that boosts the effectiveness of both guys.

What Did They Lose?

Heading to Columbus is defensive prospect Aidan Hreschuk, who just turned 19 last month and is well underway in his freshman season at Boston College. Is it important to note that he was the player drafted with the pick that was acquired from Detroit in the Alex Nedeljkovic trade? I mean, probably not. But I guarantee that somebody out there is currently losing their mind over it.

Anyway. There’s some things to like about Hreschuk. He’s a bit of an undersized defender at 5-foot-11, 188 pounds, but he has some tools that give him a chance to develop into an NHL player down the road. He’s a smooth skater, very mobile and quick on his feet and processes things quickly. His vision is solid, and he can make a nice first pass. His offensive vision and patience makes him a threat to jump into attacks, and he has a really nice release:

What I really like about him is his motor. He’s a hard working kid and plays physically despite being overmatched at times. He’s got some grit to him, and isn’t afraid to throw his body around. His positioning as a whole is a bit of a work in progress, and I’ve noticed in my limited viewings of him that he tends to chase the play at times. He’ll need to become more of a reader than a reactor if he wants to be a successful NHLer (especially at his size), but he’s a long-term project and has a lot of time to work out the holes in his game.

Because of the obvious long-term timeline here, it’s clear that the Canes were comfortable in moving on from a player that does have a lot of question marks surrounding his path to the NHL. Hreschuk will need to make use of all three of his remaining years of college eligibility and then some seasoning in the AHL before he figures to break into the NHL mix, and would have had a ton of internal competition in the Canes’ system. This trade should give him a clearer route towards becoming a regular in the future, while it allowed the team to deal from a position of strength.

The Canes also sent winger Yegor Korshkov to Columbus, which is rather insignificant. He’ll turn 26 this summer and has just one career NHL game under his belt. At 6-4 and 190 pounds, Korshkov does have some traits that teams covet in a bottom-six forward. He’s very large and has soft hands around the net, but it was just never going to happen for him in Carolina. He’s currently playing for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in his Russian homeland, so it’s anybody’s guess if he ever plans to return to North America or not.

Does This Deal Move The Needle?

With any trade, the magic question is always whether the deal will make a significant impact or not. I think it’s safe to sit here and confidently say that Max Domi will not be the reason that the Canes do or don’t win the Cup, but he’s a player that’s shown talent in the past and could be part of the solution. If nothing else, he should be a definite upgrade over Jordan Martinook in a top-9 role, and in turn the move allows Martinook (when healthy) to slide into the fourth-line role that his game is suited for.

It’ll definitely be interested to see where Rod Brind’Amour decides to slot Domi, who has both center and wing versality. Considering the team’s depth down the middle, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll see any time at center when the team is at full strength, but in event of an injury, he could easily slot in there. Realistically, I probably lean towards him slotting in on either the Trocheck or the Staal line, and he could offer a different dynamic to both of those combos. My initial thought would be to link him up with Staal and Fast — they’d be an extremely difficult line to play against for opposing teams, and in turn would allow Nino Niederreiter to move up into the top-six. However, should they want him in a more offensive role, he could slot alongside Trocheck and Necas on the second line - although, I’d be a bit worried about that trio defensively.

Regardless, RBA will have options and this trade adds another piece to a unit that has a lot of firepower. If Domi plays to his identity, he’s a guy that could bring a pesky element to a forward group that has severely lacked that type of a player for the past few years. If he can find his game and be effective, it’ll be an extremely worthy trade that’ll strength and diversify the forward core a bit. On the flip side, even if he doesn’t work out, the Canes didn’t give up anything that can impact their current window or immediate future — which is a win/win scenario.