Let’s rewind: How good are Evgenii Dadonov and Max Domi, actually?

What do we know about Evgenii Dadonov and Max Domi? That’s what this retrospective is for.

It hadn’t dawned on me. Do Stars fans know who Evgenii Dadonov and Max Domi are? Beyond the one game we’ve seen them both on the team, I mean? Try as I might, I couldn’t find a place for an in-depth profile of them from a Stars perspective. So let’s talk about them today, and pretend like it hasn’t already been a handful of games since they’ve been traded.

You already know the trades, so let’s skip to the profiles.

Let’s start with Dadonov.

The KHL Factor

Dadonov has had a career that has zigged as much as zagged. Drafted in 2007 by the Florida Panthers, he broke into the lineup just a couple of years after being drafted. In a story that sounds familiar with many young Russian players, he never quite stuck around. And so Dadonov struggled to become a regular, and eventually got traded to Carolina in 2012 for a bag of pucks (no disrespect to Jonathan Matsumoto and Mattias Lindstrom), and left for the KHL.

His story took a dramatic turn from there. The KHL team he played for, Donbass, suspended operations just as literal war broke out. He transferred to a good team in SKA Saint Petersburg. That’s when his legend started to grow. Not only was Dadonov extremely productive, but was a big part of helping SKA win the KHL version of the Stanley Cup. When they won, Ilya Kovalchuck, named MVP, said ‘piss on that’ and gave it to Dadanov.

Casual fans might be wondering “what’s the big deal about what he did in Europe?” The big deal is that the KHL is a very good league. When you look at equivalency models that try to measure how close a point in another league is worth compared to the NHL, the KHL tops the list. It’s why Artemi Panarin and Andrei Kuzmenko were such hot commodities before they even set foot in an NHL rink. (Yes, the same was also true of Vadim Shipachyov, but that’s another story for another day; a story that finds Vegas at fault more than Shipachyov).

Now that NHL teams had proof Dadonov had developed (or I should say proof that someone else developed him for them), Dadonov returned back to Florida in 2017 and had a whale of a season. Granted, it’s kind of hard to have a down year sandwiched between Alexander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau (and later Barkov with Nick Bjudgstad), but Dadonov was no passenger.

On the contrary...

Dadonov gave Florida three strong years, mostly with Barkov and Huberdeau, scoring 182 points in just 225 games. His 2.24 points per hour at even strength was a top-three forward’s production. Just in case I’m not being clear, I didn’t say a top six forward’s average production — I said a top three forward’s production. Dadonov was all that, and then some. Then he became a free agent, left for Ottawa, and everything unraveled.

The Nomad Years

Dadonov went from the only two places he ever knew (Russia and Florida) over the course of eight years to Ottawa, Vegas, and Montreal in the span of three. Because he was bad? No: because these teams couldn’t figure out a place for him (literally in Vegas’ case). You see, NHL teams are never at fault. It’s always the players. And so, Dadonov couldn’t rise above being paired mostly with Colin White and Nicholas Paul (Ottawa), Mattias Janmark, Nicholas Roy, Jack Eichel, and Chandler Stephenson (Vegas), and Christian Dvorak and Mike Hoffman (Montreal).

Except for Eichel, you may notice that none of these players come anywhere close to the quality that Dadonov had in Florida where his presence next to Barkov and Huberdeau was a constant. Despite this, Dadonov scored at a 1.67 rate at even strength. That’s the average even strength production of a top six forward. So how good was Dadonov, actually? Not just underrated good, but very good. With elite players, Dadonov has given teams elite production. With substandard players, Dadonov provides top six production. He’s exactly what you want scoring forwards to be; able to elevate great players and rise above average ones.

So About Young Domi

I’m not even sure who’s had a more interrupted career: Dadonov or Domi? Dallas will mark Domi’s sixth NHL team since 2015. The son of Tie Domi — made famous in Dallas for getting dropped by former heavyweight champ, Grant Marshall — Max was drafted 12th overall in 2013 right where he was expected to go, and brings the same intensity to hockey that his dad did. However, that intensity has had little direction.

It didn’t start out that way. Domi’s rookie year was huge. Then Coyote-GM Don Maloney brought in Anthony DuClair that year hoping the two could replicate the same chemistry they had for the 2015 World Juniors when they helped Team Canada win gold. And boy did they ever. They were nicknamed the “Killer Ds” and had Arizona on the cusp of mattering again for a fleeting second. At even strength, Domi and Duclair were top six producers. But just like with Dadonov, a weak third year and lack of patience by his parent team made him expendable, and Arizona turned Domi into Alex Galchenyuk from Montreal in 2018.

Domi’s time in Montreal was similar to Arizona: fast start, fast decline. It was also the beginning of his penchant for tantrums. In the preseason of his first year with Montreal, he sucker punched Aaron Ekblad, which earned him a suspension

Once the season began, Domi began a blistering campaign that turned into a career year, scoring 72 points next to Jonathan Drouin and Andrew Shaw. His 2.88 points per hour at even strength was a No. 1 forward’s production.

The following year in Montreal, that production would drop from 2.88 points per hour to 1.92. Unsurprisingly, Domi also bounced around the lineup a lot. He spent an equal amount of time with Artturi Lehkonen and Nick Suzuki as he did with Lehkonen and Joel Armia for reasons we’ll get back to in a minute. Montreal got what they wanted eventually, trading Domi to Columbus for power forward Josh Anderson.

As for Domi’s time with the Blue Jackets, it was an unmitigated disaster. Stars fans might not remember this, but it was such a disaster that he was left exposed in the Seattle expansion draft; over depth forwards like Eric Robinson no less. John Tortorella was not a fan of his penalties, his defensive play, or his outbursts. His most consistent linemates were Robinson and Oliver Bjorkstrand and Cam Atkinson with Jack Roslovic his first year, and then Sean Kuraly and Yegor Chinakhov in his second year.

Domi didn’t have time to acclimate in Carolina, but it’s worth noting that he was a big part of Carolina’s defeat of the big bad Bruins last year, tallying three points (and six in 14 playoff games) in Game 7. Everybody knows about his chemistry with Patrick Kane this year, so let’s skip that part and answer the most important question:

So how good will they be in Dallas?

Last month I wrote about the importance of Wyatt Johnston and how much it means to Dallas to upgrade his line. It wasn’t meant to be a diss to Ty Dellandrea. If it weren’t for Johnston, Dellandrea would probably be the young star of the show, even if he’s not technically a rookie. But Dellandrea is not there yet. Johnston is.

However, even my high estimation of Johnston wasn’t good enough to capture how elite he is. Since 2007, Johnston ranks 14th in players his age in expected individual goals per hour of even strength play, just below players like John Tavares and Sebastion Aho and above players like Mitch Marner and Nico Hischier.

The long-winded point? Johnston’s line needs to be better. Dadonov, as we’ve just seen, is exactly that kind of player. Like a good bass player who knows how to stay on beat with the rest of the band, he knows how to read off others. Yes, it’s easier for me to say in retrospect now that he stands at nearly a point-per-game pace, but the point still stands: he’s exactly what that line needed on paper. Now, Dadonov is an older player, but playmakers age more gracefully. To me the real question is whether or not Dadonov is enough for the purposes of a contender. That’s the part that remains to be seen.

Domi is the x-factor though. You’ll notice I’ve mentioned each player’s teammates a lot in recapping their history. It’s important to keep performance in context. Once Dadonov’s teammates lowered in quality, so did his production. Same thing with Domi. But Domi’s potential has the added layer of his true position being an open-ended question.

That career year in Montreal when he profiled like a No. 1 forward? That was his only extended year where he played as a center; something former Canadien coach Claude Julien noticed and would come back to the following year. David St. Louis, who now writes for EPRinkside, did a fantastic breakdown looking at how his play as a center figured into his increased production by breaking down his production in terms of events that preceded them: faceoff as a center, faceoff as a winger, neutral zone regroup, his breakouts as a center versus as a winger, etc. The center position seemed to be a tangible factor in allowing him to shoot more, and use his legs more despite his reputation as a perimeter playmaker. Could this be an option in Dallas?

Plug in the words “Max Domi” on Twitter, sift through photos, and you’ll find an endless stream of player cards telling you that Domi is bad at everything except passing.

I’m not here to dispute the narrative except to say that I think there’s more to learn. Playmakers are more fluid in their impact, but this also makes them more subject to the quality of their linemates. If they can’t shoot, and rely on others to do so, then who those “others” are will matter more. (This is also why Dallas needs to be very careful about Mavrik Bourque, who has all the potential of a prime Dadonov or Domi, if not more.)

Are Tyler Seguin and Mason Marchment it? I’m not sure. I don’t like the idea of two oft-penalized players next to Seguin, and even though he adds playmaking to that line, we’re talking about effectiveness in one zone, not the other two. Dallas’ lack of puck-moving defensemen make their effectiveness a harder sell if they don’t have zone exit support. Consider me a skeptic, but a hopeful skeptic; again, I think Domi and Dadonov are overall solid improvements that also add a layer of offense the previous roster didn’t have beyond the top line.

And no, I wasn’t a big fan of Dallas’ deadline. And truth be told, I’m not a “win now” proponent either. However, it’s rare that a team has a paved road for the entire conference. Regardless of whether or not the reward is getting embarrassed by an Eastern conference juggernaut, who cares? That’s a gamble worth taking, which should have been all the more reason to upgrade the blueline. But what’s done is done. For now, the Stars are a better team today than they were before the trade deadline.

I don’t know what’s next, but I know that interesting players are more exciting than reliable ones. Domi and Dadonov may not be the most reliable, but they’ll be exciting.