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As Max Domi visits, Coyotes’ trade for Alex Galchenyuk comes into focus

(AP Photos)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — After a December contest between the Arizona Coyotes and New York Islanders, it might seem unusual that a throng of Montreal media was in the building.

They waited for Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet to finish addressing local reporters about that night’s game. Then they moved on to the reason they were there, querying with sincere interest about the forward who once played for their Canadiens and was traded this offseason in exchange for Max Domi.

Alex Galchenyuk, a 24-year-old third overall pick who scored 30 goals in 2015-16, has drawn comparisons to Domi after the two were swapped one-for-one this summer. It doesn’t do any favors for Galchenyuk that Domi is having a career year.

It also doesn’t help that Arizona raised eyebrows by playing Galchenyuk at center — a position he was moved out of in Montreal — only to later put him on the wing soon after the Coyotes acquired Nick Schmaltz.

Domi, who will visit the Coyotes for the first time on Thursday along with the rest of the Montreal Canadiens, has 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points in 35 games this year.

“I think any time you make a trade you kind of focus on what you get back,” Arizona GM John Chayka told Doug & Wolf on Wednesday on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “Obviously Max is playing well, doing good things and you’re happy for him in that regard but we’re looking and focused on Alex.”

Galchenyuk hasn’t played as many games as Domi because of an injury he suffered in training camp that kept him out at the beginning of the season. But in 23 games playing in the top-six forward group, he has three goals (2 at even-strength, 1 power play) and eight assists for 11 points.

“I think Alex would be the first one to tell you he hasn’t produced,” Chayka said. “He’s a guy that’s scored at every level throughout his career and life. He’s done it at the NHL level, at a very high level. It seems like he kind of gets going and then he’s has got another small injury pop up.

“I think he’s done everything he can in a lot of ways but at the same time just hasn’t been able to put the puck in the net. And that’s kind of what he’s paid to do and that’s what he expects of himself. He’s had a lot of chances, a lot of opportunities. It hasn’t come together yet the way we’d like but there’s still more than half the season left here and he’s a guy that can score in bunches.”

But it’s important to consider the context, too, of the Domi-for-Galchenyuk swap. Last season with the Coyotes, Domi scored just nine goals (he’s already got five more than that in 47 fewer games this year), and four of those were empty-netters. Galchenyuk had 19 goals, and what’s more, the Coyotes were getting a potential top-six center.

The jury is still out on that last part — even if the team has since moved him to wing.

“Well center, you’ve got to really think a lot and he missed that time, and I think he was thinking too much,” Tocchet said Tuesday. “As a centerman you’ve got to think a lot in my system and I know I wanted to lessen that load for him. I think that’s why I did it — just to let him get back into a groove.

“He’s a hard worker. He’s a good guy. I really like him. He’s a great kid. He feels bad he’s not scoring but it’s inch-by-inch with him. Like I said, I think that month really hurt him. He had a good camp but I think that month really hurt him and he’s trying to play catch-up now.”

Tocchet said the matter of Galchenyuk playing center could be revisited. After all, it’s only been 23 games. But it’s become a discussion point — especially for Montreal fans — after Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin told reporters that he didn’t believe Galchenyuk could play center.

“I’ve been here for six years, I’ve seen Alex everyday,” Bergevin said in Sept. 2017. “Centerman’s a tough position, demanding. I’m sure as we speak today, Alex is not able to play that position every day. I don’t need 10 more tries. I know he’s not. If at some point it changes, some guys figure it out later on and it’s possible that he does. But as we speak today it’s not the case.”

It’s possible that, as Tocchet said, Galchenyuk is just rusty and was set back by injury. Tocchet has said before that there’s more defensive responsibility in his system at the center position, but with time, Galchenyuk could work his way back into a place where he’s ready to give center another try.

“Probably more time,” Tocchet said when asked whether he could know yet if Galchenyuk has the ability to play center. “You can’t make a determination in 20-something games. But saying that, I think once he starts to get a goal here and there I think it will start to relax him a little bit, and then you go from there.”

As for scoring goals, that’s something the Coyotes team as a whole — not just Galchenyuk — needs to work on. The Coyotes enter Thursday ranked 30th in the league in goals scored per game with just 2.45. Of the 98 NHL players who have double-digit goals this season, none of them are on the Coyotes.

“It hasn’t come together for him yet but I don’t think you can throw away six seasons and just focus on 20 games,” Chayka said. “I think he’s almost at half a point a game so it’s not like he hasn’t been able to contribute at all. But there’s more to his game of course and his ability to score goals is well-documented.”

Domi is already four goals away from matching his career high of 18 that he set his rookie season with the Coyotes in 2015-16. But to suggest that Domi would’ve had this production had he stayed in Arizona is to suggest that there aren’t other variables that come into play — but there are.

Hindsight is 20/20. The future, however, remains to be seen for each player. In the meantime, as Chayka said, the Coyotes aren’t worried about what Domi is up to. They’re focused on getting the most out of a good player that they gave up another good player to get.

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