Entering his third year with the Montreal Canadiens, Raphael Diaz hopes to build on his offensive success from last season. On a team with offensive blueliners in Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban and veteran Andrei Markov, Diaz can be considered part of the supporting cast. The Swiss defender will see most of his point-producing minutes on the powerplay, which is good news if your fantasy league provides a bonus for special team contributions. Unfortunately, Diaz still represents a risk if drafted too early given recent injury issues and that he will find himself fighting for ice-time on the Habs bottom pairing.
Season Stats: GP 23, G 1, A 13, PTS 14, +/- +4, PIM 6, PPG 0, SHG 0, GWG 0, SOG 34, ATOI 20:33
With Subban sitting out the start of the year due to contract negotiations, Diaz made the most of his increased ice-time and power-play responsibilities. The 27-year-old’s success was interrupted when he suffered a concussion in late February that would keep him out of the lineup for 25 games. Diaz would return for the final four games of the regular season and all of the Habs playoff games against Ottawa, but picked up only 1 assist and a -5 plus/minus rating during those final 9 games.
Pressed into action during the year in place of absentees Subban (contract negotiations) and then Alexei Emelin (injury), Diaz’s average ice-time of 20:33 exceeded expectations. To his credit, he provided dependable coverage when called upon and finished the season with a positive plus/minus rating. With the man-advantage, Diaz was relied upon to set up his teammates for goals as a playmaker, rather than shoot himself. Surely the team will want to see him put the puck on net more regularly with confidence as opponents begin to focus their attention on quarterbacks P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov.
2 Year Averages
(Because of the lockout-shortened season, we are pro-rating all of 2012-13’s numbers over a typical 82-game year.)
Before joining the Habs in 2011-2012, Raphael Diaz played professional hockey for Switzerland’s EV Zug. In 384 career games for his Swiss team, Diaz put up 40 goals and 107 assists for 147 points total. During the lockout he returned to EV Zug where he stayed in game shape. He posted 29 points, including 7 goals, in 32 games before rejoining the Habs for the 2012-2013 season.
Diaz’s goal production in the Swiss league indicates that he has the ability to score – it’s just a matter of translating that success at the NHL level. He will have direct competition from veteran Francis Bouillon, newcomer Douglas Murray, Davis Drewiske, and rookies Jared Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu for a roster spot. Provided Emelin’s knee injury keeps him out of the lineup until November, Diaz’s chances of securing a roster position are good. The pending UFA will also be playing for a new contract, so motivation to perform is abundant.
Apart from Beaulieu, who could use some more seasoning at the AHL level, Diaz has the inside track at maintaining a spot on the blueline as the team’s third offensive defenseman. Diaz would join Subban and Markov to compliment defensive defensemen Josh Gorges, Emelin, Bouillon, Murray, and Drewiske. With NHL players set to head to Sochi for the Winter Olympics in 2014, Dias is a lock to represent Switzerland where he’ll see big minutes against quality opponents.
Injuries and Coach Michel Therrien’s line juggling will greatly impact how many games Diaz plays this season. With several veteran defensemen at his disposal, the coach will have options on a night-to-night basis. Not known for taking many penalties, Diaz’s game lacks an edge that would prove useful against division rivals. Don’t be surprised to find him a healthy-scratch if Therrien prioritizes physical play. Diaz’s 25 game absence due to a concussion last season is troubling as it’s the kind of injury that may resurface during the course of a long season. The 5’11, 197lb defenseman is liable to wear down if left unprotected.
Finally, if at any point during the season GM Marc Bergevin decides he won’t be re-signing Diaz, expect him to move the Swiss defender for an asset or a playoff run upgrade. It would be a boost to fantasy owners if Diaz were to find himself playing a bigger role with another club.