Regardless of how the future plays out, the 2013 NHL Draft will always be remembered by Predators fans as the day Seth Jones joined the organization. However, a few hours after Jones stepped onto the podium at the Prudential Center, David Poile would bring yet another 6′ 4”-plus rearguard into the fold — one who could very well become a dominating presence on Nashville’s blue line down the road.
Jonathan-Ismael Diaby, picked in the third round (64th overall) by the Preds, has been one of the more physically intimidating players in the QMJHL over the last few years as a member of the Victoriaville Tigres. Known as a stay-at-home D-man who packs a mean punch, Diaby has built a reputation as a guy with size who knows how to use it.
Says Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News:
A team-high plus-12 for the Tigres, Diaby is a defense-first blueliner who can dish out punishment and has no problem dropping the gloves, something he did nine times this season… Talent hawks would like to see him think the game better but saw him make strides in that area… The key for Diaby in the short-term will be playing within his capabilities. He’s not a puck-rusher and won’t be counted on for a ton of offense…
In hopes of gaining more insight on the youthful behemoth, I called up Yanick Jean: the Tigres head coach and a former Washington Capitals prospect. Jean, who has been with Victoriaville since 2010, seems to be one of Diaby’s biggest supporters.
“Jonathan is the kind of guy you want on your team and don’t want to have to face. He can finish his opponent as well as anyone,” the bench boss said on Monday.
“He’s strong in his own end of the ice — especially in the corners — which excited some pro teams last season. He’s going to play on our top pairing like he did last year. He’s a key guy in a lot of situations for us, and he’s going to continue to help our team win.”
As is often the case with large defensemen in their tender years, Diaby has been deemed a below-average skater by many observers. That said, Jean has seen marked advancements on that front, and believes Diaby’s work ethic will help him improve his speed enough to succeed at in the NHL.
“His skating came along tremendously this year,” said Jean. “He works extremely hard off the ice, so that’s giving him a lot more power with his stride. He’s a much better skater than he was when I started here.”
Another blemish on Diaby’s scouting report is his hockey sense, but Jean doesn’t believe that will be an issue in the NHL — especially in a system as strong as Nashville’s.
“I think people are saying that (about his hockey sense) because he plays a lot, he racks up a lot of minutes with us: 25-28 minutes per game,” said Jean. “So playing with his style, you get tired more. Once he gets to the pro level, playing that stay-at-home defenseman role 15-20 minutes per game, he’ll be twice as efficient and a better decision-maker.”
As the above numbers illustrate, Diaby is not one to light the lamp on a frequent basis. However, he is known for his violent slap shot, which some consider to be his greatest asset. If he can make a small adjustment or two, that shot could take his game to another level.
“His shot is extremely powerful,” said Jean. “If he can improve his release time, that could be a very valuable weapon in the pros.”
Jean continued to say that Diaby is comparable to Colin White, and the numbers seem to back this sentiment up.
A Force to be Reckoned With
When one watches Diaby play, many over-used buzz words in the hockey lexicon immediately come to mind.
Gritty. Combative. Imposing. Agitating. Aggressive.
All of these descriptions are valid, though, as he has made a name for himself as one of the most feared guys in the Q. And when you watch him fight, it’s easy to see why:
A simple YouTube search will reveal many videos of Diaby like this one, most of which feature that swift and powerful right hook.
As one can see from the tape, Diaby is not only tall, but possesses a filled-out frame, as well — something not many 18-year-olds can claim. According to HockeyDB.com, which uses the numbers from the draft combine, he is already 6′ 5” and 223 pounds.
While Portland Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston told us that Seth Jones needs to improve his strength, that doesn’t appear to be an issue with Diaby.
Looking Toward the Future
Given Nashville’s organizational depth and his recent shoulder surgery, it will likely be a few years before we see Diaby get a chance to crack the Predators roster. If/when that time comes, Jean believes the Preds’ brass will enjoy having the Blainville, Quebec native.
“The great thing about Jonathan is that you can push him, because he wants to work, and the Preds will like that,” he said. “They will love pushing him as much as they can, because he’ll truly respond to that.”
Diaby certainly has his flaws, and scouts seem to be all over the map in regards to how he projects as an NHL commodity. But as a member of a defense-first organization, one has to think he has a far greater chance of thriving with the Predators than most other teams (how many times have we said that over the last few years?).
Once upon a time, Shea Weber was a bruising 6′ 4” defenseman who slipped out of the first round of the NHL Draft, much like Diaby. While it would be unfair to place Weber-esque expectations on the kid, Diaby’s skill set and size make him a high-potential asset for an organization known for developing players like him.
“He has the kind of drive young players need, and when you work as hard as he does, you never stop improving,” Jean concluded. “There’s nothing that tells me he can’t go pro.”
Photo courtesy of Victoriaville Tigres