In our last Top 25 Under 25, Darren Dietz was ranked 24th. He was playing his third year of professional hockey in St. John's where he enjoyed his best season in the pro ranks, offering stability to an inexperienced IceCaps team. He virtually matched his previous season's contributions on the scoresheet for the AHL team, despite playing 10 fewer games.
The reason for the reduced action in St. John's was a late-season call-up to the Montreal Canadiens, necessitated by an injury to P.K. Subban. In 13 games with the parent club, Dietz put up one goal and four assists, actually out-pacing his points-per-game rate at the NHL level (0.38) over what he was able to produce in the AHL (0.26), including his first NHL goal.
He also had about the same number of penalty minutes from year to year of AHL play, having as many PIMs as games played in both the NHL and AHL.
With no one else coming of the Injured Reserve to replace him, he was able to stay a bit longer with the Habs than originally expected, where he averaged 14 minutes per game, usually alongside fellow emergency call-up Joel Hanley. Given the way the IceCaps struggled to keep the puck out of their own net this season, you could be forgiven for fearing that Dietz would be eaten alive in his first NHL stint. While his first few games spent beside Victor Bartley suggested that would indeed be the case, Dietz and Hanley were kept together once paired up, largely because of some opportunistic scoring while they were on the ice, and they soon got comfortable playing at the NHL pace. The chemistry that the two brought with them from the lower-pressure environment of the minor leagues likely played a crucial role in their ability to adapt to the highest level.
Even with the slow start, the duo put up decent possession numbers, finishing with a Corsi-for percentage of 51.5% in about 100 shared minutes. Dietz also saw secondary duty with Alexei Emelin for about 33 minutes of his playing time, and that pairing fared very well in their limited time together. Though it was a very small sample they had stellar possession numbers, both in shot attempts for and against, for a Corsi-for percentage of over 57%.
Darren Dietz is in the last year of his entry-level contract, and is headed for restricted free agency on July 1. Has he done enough to deserve and extension? At only 22, he has shown that he can play in the NHL, so you would have to believe Marc Bergevin will re-sign him to a short-term extension.
With Subban and Jeff Petry locked up for the foreseeable future, and Greg Pateryn establishing himself as an NHL defender, there is not much hope for him to make the team out of training camp this summer. Nonetheless, you can never have too much (waiver-exempt) depth on the blue line, and this season was a perfect example of why that depth is important.
The organization would be wise to sign him. He could be a cheap replacement for Pateryn in a year or two, and may give management the confidence to move out a defencemen for a needed piece going forward.
This season, we learned that Dietz is a valuable asset, and that is good news for player and organization alike.