Sunday, 19 May 2013

Canadiens' Darren Dietz shines at Memorial Cup; Dalton Thrower more muted

This Memorial Cup isn't the All-Canadiens Festival that last season's was, with Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi, Michaël Bournival and Morgan Ellis playing starring roles on their respective teams.  We do however get two similar prospects playing on the Saskatoon Blades, a couple of righthanded shooting defenceman who play a tough, physical style and have offensive skills.  Darren Dietz was drafted in the fifth round in 2011, and after two more seasons in Saskatoon has signed an entry-level contract with the Canadiens.  Dalton Thrower was picked in the second round last summer, 51st overall.

Darren Dietz has looked good and drawn praise from the announcers and analysts so far.  He had some good battles in front of the net against the Knights, notably on the penalty kill when they were two players down.  He was steady with the puck, skating and passing well, loading up the slap shot, and made the simple plays and few mistakes.  I was surprised a couple of times when he made a backward pass in the neutral zone, but realized that it was a set play the Blades had worked on during their layoff.  He would skate the puck right at the lone forechecker, force him to commit, then slide the puck back to a forward ready to receive it and skate up with speed, kind of like when a rugby player makes a pass once the man covering him has committed to the tackle.  He wasn't mistake-free, being outmuscled in front of the net and effectively interfering with his own goalie on the first London goal.   Tonight, he was matched up against the Nathan McKinnon line and played big, important minutes, looked sure-handed handling and shooting the puck, and quarterbacking the powerplay.  He showed some offensive flair sneaking up to the net Andrei Markov-style, and was rewarded with a 'garbage' goal on a rebound.

Dalton Thrower is less visible so far.  No obvious flashes, a hooking penalty, no big hits, no display of the physical style and the mean streak that endeared him to Trevor Timmins and Marc Bergevin last summer.  He had a difficult year, being involved in some off-ice incidents that were whispered about but not reported by the hockey scribes who cover the Blades, or shown on the Memorial Cup documentary.  We can hope that he's given another year in junior to polish up his game and mature, and based on the situation in Hamilton, with an overstock on young D-men learning their craft there already, that seems likely.  The ideal scenario, and one that is probable, is that Saskatoon will trade him to a team that will contend next season, in exchange for picks and young players, since the Blades will need to rebuild after breaking the bank exchanging picks for veterans in anticipation of this tournament.

The Blades' Duncan Siemens, the 11th overall draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2011, does seem unimpressive for now.  You would expect him to be the leader on the blue line, but he's being overshadowed by Darren Dietz.  No great plays, nothing eye-catching, and he committed a doozie of a giveaway against the Knights, flubbing the backward-pass play we previously discussed, by trying to stickhandle the puck first and getting stripped on the Seth Griffith goal.  He had a tough year personally as shown on "Road to the Memorial Cup", but still, you expect to see a dominant player for a guy who's two years removed from his draft year, he should be more mature physically and mentally than most other players.

He's also kind of a gawky kid, a little scrawny, with acne...  It reminds me of the chapter in "Moneyball" when the old-school scouts give players a negative report if they have "a bad body" and/or an "ugly girlfriend."  This shouldn't be relevant to a scout's evaluation, but I can see how it could colour your perception of a player, and how if another prospect with roughly similar talent and potential has a more engaging, magnetic personality, you'd be more inclined to rate him higher.  It might not be a conscious process exactly, but if you're about to enter into a long-term relationship with a player, the golden boy would probably win out against the over-achieving runt of the litter.

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