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When the Habs announced in the 2011 offseason that they had signed Raphael Diaz, most fans figured he was Hamilton bound and only would see limited time with Montreal. Instead, Diaz made the team out of camp and played a regular role before an injury ended his season prematurely. With more stability having signed a two year deal this summer, what does he have in store for an encore?
Coming out of training camp, Diaz was looked at as the 6th/7th defenceman but it didn't take long for him to move up the lineup. Having gained the confidence of then-coach Jacques Martin plus a barrage of injuries, he had a six game stretch that saw him play at least 20 minutes per game including a career high 27:48 during the Habs' lost to San Jose in December. Under Randy Cunneyworth his ice time dropped a fair bit, in large part due to the regular dressing of a seventh defenceman. He also saw regular time on the second special teams units; he was just one of two defencemen (the other being P.K. Subban) to average over a minute per game on both the powerplay and penalty kill. Despite not playing in 23 games, he ranked third among rookie blueliners in blocked shots with 102.
Season Stats: 59 GP, 3 G, 13 A, 16 PTS, -7 rating, 30 PIMS, 0 PPG, 1 GWG, 61 SOG, 18:00 ATOI
(As this was his first year in North America, his comparables are from his time in the NLA in Switzerland.)
Although his spot on the roster is more entrenched than it was at this time last year, there remains some uncertainty as to what role he will actually have with the club. The return of Andrei Markov (we hope) and the addition of Francis Bouillon make the depth chart a little more crowded. As it stands, he looks to be in the 6th/7th role which is where he was to start 2011-12. Personally, I'd pencil him in as a regular that should still play a regular secondary role on special teams but a drop in his average TOI should be expected.
There really aren't a whole lot of Habs that qualify as 'sleepers' but Diaz is one of them. Provided he stays healthy, he should be able to surpass last years' offensive output while playing both special teams units gives him a chance to pick up the odd point in those categories as well. Of course, given the depth of the blueline, there is a bit of risk involved in picking him but that is somewhat mitigated by the fact he'll be overlooked by many. In deep leagues he is worth selecting in late rounds while in standard sized ones he is worth placing on a watch list to see if he moves up the depth chart.
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