Killer Ds Making Hockey in Arizona Matter

The Coyotes have a promising young core, led by close friends Max Domi and Anthony Duclair.

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Nov 4 2015, 5:10pm

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Despite another threat of the Arizona Coyotes relocating this past summer, and the franchise in the middle of a three-year playoff drought, there is a sense of optimism amongst hockey fans in the desert. The Coyotes have started the season with a 5-5-1 record including an impressive 4-2-1 mark on the road. Arizona sits fourth in the Pacific Division just one point back of the San Jose Sharks for the third seed.

It's not the Coyotes' competitive start to the season that's what's most exciting in Arizona, though. It's the collection of talent the organization has assembled. Some of that talent has already arrived in a big way.

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Arizona's roster boasts NHL veterans such as 38-year-old captain Shane Doan, Martin Hanzal (28) and Antoine Vermette (33), who is back with the Coyotes after winning a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks last spring. It's a pair of 20-year-old rookies, however, driving the bus early this season in Arizona. Known as the "Killer Ds"—a nickname coined by former NHLer and current Coyotes broadcaster Tyson Nash—Max Domi and Anthony Duclair are turning heads and front and centre in the thick of the rookie-scoring race.

Entering the season, the rookie class consisted of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and everybody else. A month into the season, though, Domi and Duclair have their names in the hat as early candidates for the Calder Trophy—handed out to the league's top rookie. With McDavid expected to be out long term after suffering a shoulder injury in Tuesday's win over the Philadelphia Flyers, Domi has an opportunity to take control of the scoring race.

"It's big for our team. It's sometimes hard to sell a young youth movement especially (with) a franchise that's kind of been stuck in a youth movement for a few years," said Doan, who has been with the Coyotes since the franchise's move from Winnipeg prior to the 1996-97 season. "In the past we've been saying 'Yeah, we're going to be better, we're going to be better' so to have them have success is always exciting."

As Doan notes, the emergence of Domi and Duclair is just the tip of the iceberg. The organization has several high-end prospects in the pipeline, too, including the likes of 2015 first rounder Dylan Strome, and 2014 draft picks Brendan Perlini and Christian Dvorak. Strome, who was drafted third overall behind McDavid and Eichel, led all Ontario Hockey League scorers with a 129 points last season.

The Coyotes have failed to win more than 37 games in each of the past three seasons and have not qualified for the postseason since a 42-win mark during the 2011-12 campaign. The lack of on-ice success had the City of Glendale attempting to end its lease agreement with the hockey club this past summer.

The threat by the city prompted the Coyotes to hire an arena consultant this week with reports suggesting the club is looking into the possibility of building a new arena in Phoenix along with the NBA's Suns and WNBA's Mercury.

With persistent whispers of relocation for a franchise that's perpetually struggled, it's been hard for fans to get behind the team. The Coyotes are consistently at the bottom of league attendance figures, but future success is now on the radar as a result of the club's influx of young, high-upside talent.

It starts with Domi and Duclair.

Duclair came to the Coyotes' organization in a trade, which shocked the Pointe-Claire, Quebec, native at the time. The former third-round selection of the New York Rangers was included in the same deal that saw defenceman Keith Yandle head east. In 11 games with the Coyotes this season, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound winger has five goals, including two on the power play, and seven points. His five goals are one off Rangers centre Oscar Lingberg for the rookie lead.

"I think we've proved a lot of people wrong early on in this season," Duclair said. "I think we've had an us-against-the-world mentality and obviously we're a young team, we're not the most skilled, but we want to be the hardest-working team. We've proved that so far—we've just got to find that consistency level."

Domi, meanwhile, was the Coyotes' first-round selection, 12th overall, at the 2013 NHL draft. After parts of four seasons with the OHL's London Knights, the son of former Maple Leafs enforcer Tie Domi has five goals and leads the Coyotes in scoring with 11 points in as many games. The 5-foot-10, 198-pounder is one point back of McDavid for the rookie scoring lead.

"It doesn't really mean a whole lot right now to be honest. We're trying to win hockey games and that's all you worry about," said Domi, downplaying his early-season success.

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett credits Domi's upbringing as one of the reasons the Toronto-raised forward has transitioned well to the NHL game.

"He grew up in this setting his whole life and then you go down to London (Ontario), those games are like NHL games down there," Tippett said. "He's not going to be overwhelmed at all. He's a dynamic player that has an impact—every game he's played, he's had an impact."

Domi and Duclair have not only broken into the NHL together, they regularly play on the same line and have spent time on the Coyotes' power play. It's a friendship that was formed while the two represented Team Canada at the Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup tournament in 2012 and has been flourishing ever since. The pair were part of a line that helped Canada win gold at the 2015 world junior championship in Toronto earlier this year.

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When Duclair was dealt to the Coyotes in March, Domi was one of the first people he called. The two are only separated when it comes to living arrangements in Arizona. Since Duclair is allergic to Domi's dog, Duclair was forced to move out and find his own living arrangements for the season.

The Killer Ds may be rookies, but in a market looking for success from its hockey club, Domi and Duclair are hoping their history together can provide fans of the Coyotes with a bright future. At the very least, it's a start. There is finally something to be excited about when it comes to hockey in Arizona.

"It's pretty cool to translate it to the NHL," Duclair said of the friendship. "Our friendship off the ice really translates well. We just seem to find each other wherever we are and communication and preparation is really key for us to have some success."