So... Our little scheme to have the Blades lose last night so as to not go straight through to the finals, but rather lose, play a tiebreaker game, win that then play in the semi-final, and after another victory get into the finals, has, um, backfired. The Blades, a team that appeared disjointed all season, going on alternating hot and cold streaks, were overmatched in the last game, as their high energy, physical style couldn't make up for their comparative lack of talent.
In the first period, Saskatoon battled bravely, propped up by another excellent performance by Andrey Makarov, who was under siege even when his team was on the powerplay. It seemed a matter of time until the Knights exploded, and they did in the third, making the score 4-0 then 5-0 from the opening faceoff, and what was still a possible win became a rout. While the Blades dumped and chased, and cycled, and grinded, and cycled some more, the Knights were one-touch passing, playing the 'three passes before you can shoot game'. The first round talent they had overpowered the mature, physical lineup of the Blades.
Dalton Thrower was suspended for his shoulder check to the head of Taylor Leier of the Portland Winterhawks, so we were now stuck watching Darren Dietz as the only Canadiens prospect in the tournament. And again, he did a lot of things well, but tonight some of his miscues were glaring.
On the plus side, he played major minutes, especially when the Blades still had a chance, being on the ice more often than not, even strength, on the powerplay, on the penalty kill. He was confident and creative with the puck, got off a few shots on goal that came close, and he was physical when in front of the net.
On the debit side, he committed a couple of gaffes that almost ended up in his net, notably when he tried a tricky little bounce pass off the boards to a teammate while behind his net, and that pass was easily gathered in by an opponent. The Blades scrambled in their end blocking shots and chasing the puck for an extra 30 seconds instead of having easily cleared their zone. Also, as the wheels were coming off, Mr. Dietz was frequently out of position, chasing the puck or a hit, although the whole team was coming unglued, the system was unraveling, so he's not completely to blame. Another blight was his huge deliberate elbow to the throat of a London Knight who was already engaged with a Blade in a corner. Mr. Dietz was lucky to get away with only a two-minute penalty. As an assistant captain, we expect more maturity and discipline from him. He played the rest of the game straddling the line between resignation and dejection.
Overall, we have to assess Darren Dietz as a good prospect, but he's no slam dunk. He does most everything pretty well, but he's not a world beater in any respect. He's not a scalpel, he's not a sledge hammer, he's a good, useful multi-tool. He'll need to spend a couple of seasons in the AHL to develop further, and I can see him as a Josh Gorges type, in that he won't be huge, but not small either, he'll be reliable and dependable, but in contrast he'll have an offensive component to his game that Josh doesn't.
The game offered glimpses of Nikita Zadorov also, and he again impressed with his mobility and agility. Usually, a very tall defenceman is easy to pick out on the ice, he'll be the guy with the slow, chugging stride, the ungainly pivot, the slow stick that a Daniel Brière or Saku Koivu will exploit. He'll be the one who mid-stride will teeter, coast as he windmills his arms, then resume skating. Well, in Mr. Zadorov's case, as well as most young giant defencemen coming up these days, that's not the case. We saw him walking the blue line with the puck, stickhandling all the while, and getting off good shots. He was confident skating forward or backward, and his lateral movement and crossovers were effortless. He scored another goal, although this one was a rebound off his skate blade as he charged the Blades' net, not a beauty like his powerplay marker in his earlier game against Saskatoon. Overall, he's not a defenceman who's tall yet pretty good, he's a really good player who is really big and tall to boot.
Fingers crossed. Central Scouting has him ranked #22, you never know. Maybe we can start planting KHL rumours....