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Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: #24 Darren Dietz

Next up on our prospect countdown, an offensively inclined AHL defenseman looking to take the next step at the pro level.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

After an injury-riddled disappointing rookie season, Darren Dietz played a total of 71 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs last season, predominantly in a top four role alongside Mac Bennett. Despite a rough start to the season Dietz was able to assert himself as a reliable defenseman for head coach Sylvain Lefebvre, who trusted Dietz with both power play and penalty kill time this past year.

While he did receive a call-up as one of the Habs Black Aces during the post season, it is likely that Dietz will start the year in St. John's where he is apt to log major minutes. This also marks the final year of his entry level contract, so Dietz will be looking to make an impact to earn a new deal with the organization.

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Votes

dietz votes

The votes for Dietz were very similar, with 15 of the 18 voters placing him within the #20-#25 range. Patrik and Ian were the only voters who placed him outside of the top 25, whereas Brent gave him his only ranking within the top 20.

Top 25 Under 25 History

2012 #21 2013 #18 2014 #23

Dietz's overall ranking dropped one spot from last year when he checked in at 23, and has dropped six spots overall from his highest finish in 2013. This is his worst finish in the Top 25 Under 25 to date.

Strengths

The name of the game for Dietz is his offensive flair. Although due to an anemic power play, and questionable coaching strategies, his point totals in the AHL have been limited. The Bulldogs' power play was at the bottom of the AHL due in part to its predictability. It included mainly dumping the puck in and cycling for one open shot from the circles. Instead of creating chances from the blueline there was a large amount of passing behind the net and the circles.

Dietz possesses a booming slapshot from the blueline and is more than capable of joining the rush when needed. If the IceCaps can improve their power play, which shouldn't be very hard,  we could see a large uptick in Dietz's point production this season.

He's not afraid to play a big physical game, and can even drop the gloves when called upon.

Weaknesses

Photo credit: Getty Images

Consistency is the key part lacking from Dietz's game. He has a tendency to register several multi-point games in a row, then go pointless for over a month. Part of this consistency issue is due mainly to the team's abysmal power play system, which hampered his goal production this past season.

Dietz displays some discipline issues, an ongoing trend among Montreal's AHL prospects. Dietz is no exception, his 64 penalty minutes are second amongst Bulldogs defensemen and seventh overall on the team (Joe Finley leads all players with 132). For a team that struggled to score last year staying out of the penalty box is a must this upcoming season. Once again this can be tied into the team producing on the power play as well, as the Bulldogs were infamous for taking bad penalties while on the man advantage.

While not really a weakness, Dietz will have to remain healthy, as he's had several injuries in his first two pro seasons that have affected his overall play. His rookie year saw him miss nearly the entire second half with a major shoulder injury, and this past year saw him miss various games with a variety of injuries.

Projection

It's not easy to predict where Dietz will end up. Some weeks he shows the poise of a defender ready for the NHL, and then will vanish into obscurity for a month. He's going to be leaned on heavily alongside Morgan Ellis and Mac Bennett again in the AHL this year,  and it's important he seizes the chance to prove to the Canadiens he fits in their long term plans. His offensive skills haven't diminished any since his time in the WHL, but injuries and a lot of poor shooting luck haven't helped.

If Dietz is going to make that next step into the NHL, first and foremost he's going to have to start scoring at a better clip. If the special teams situation in St. John's can sort itself out it'll do wonders for getting Dietz closer to cracking the NHL lineup. With a new crop of prospects entering the fray in the AHL this year, the pressure will be on Dietz to separate himself from the pack.