Last season was a difficult one for Raphael Diaz. It's not that he played poorly, far from it, but being used in a role he's not suited for along with a pretty serious concussion made for a tough sophomore NHL season.
To begin the year he was buried in extreme defensive zone starts with Josh Gorges, and the two of them got obliterated pretty badly in that job, so Therrien began to shelter Diaz. That worked out much better, and he added some excellent powerplay numbers to the equation in what looked like a breakout year for the Swiss veteran.
Then came a weird collision and a concussion that was no one's fault, and he missed most of the rest of the season. By the time he came back, Alexei Emelin was out, and Diaz was back to being buried in the defensive zone with very uninspiring results.
Diaz is neither as good as he looked at the beginning of the year, nor as bad as he looked at the end, but it remains to be seen where exactly in the middle he will end up. He's also missed 48 of 130 possible NHL games due to injury, which isn't a good sign. He has an opportunity to carve out a spot for himself this season in the Canadiens' top-four, but can he do it?
In the following graph, the blue line is Diaz's even-strength Fenwick percentage from 2011 to 2013, the red line is his team's even-strength Fenwick percentage without him on the ice, and the green line is Diaz's offensive-zone start percentage, giving us insight into his usage and role. All statistics are at even strength, and all are rolling 10-game averages. What this means is that aside from the first 10 points in the graph, every point represents a 10-game sample, giving us a better grasp of trends.
With all that information on one graph, it can look a little messy and be tough to decipher, so I've included trend lines for each statistic. To understand the trend lines, blue turns into black, red turns into yellow, and green turns into purple. The x-axis is simply the games to represent time, and the y-axis is the percentage in decimal form, and the placement of the y-axis is the beginning of the 2013 season.
Diaz's performance has trended downward since he initially hit his stride as a rookie, finishing both of his NHL seasons very poorly, and both impacted by injury. I'm not sure that the downward slope is representative of his true career arc because of those injuries, not to mention the small sample size. When Diaz is healthy, he seems to be very consistently average at even strength, even when his usage gets a little rough. The problem for him, in my opinion, is that he needs the right partner.
Diaz is a puck-mover, a pretty good skater, and has some good defensive instincts. With that said, his physical game is nearly non-existent. Diaz needs a partner who can compensate for that and win battles down low and in front of the net, things he doesn't do. If he can get a guy like Jarred Tinordi to play with, or even Alexei Emelin, he's golden.
My one real gripe with Diaz's offense is that although he's an offensive defenseman, he's really just a playmaker. His shot is only okay, and he hasn't beat an NHL goaltender with it since January of 2012. Because he's not a great shooter, he needs one with him on the opposite point on the powerplay. Putting Francis "shoots only into shinpads" Bouillon with him effectively neuters the second wave of the powerplay.
Regardless, Diaz should be good for about 30 points next season if he stays healthy, who knows how many goals though, I'm guessing less than five.