When the Rangers sent a 2015 5th round pick to Vancouver for Raphael Diaz, many wondered where he would fit in. The Rangers seem set in the top-four with Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein, and Marc Staal. They also have a fairly effective third pair in John Moore and Anton Stralman, although that pairing has been rather inconsistent of late. With Justin Falk serving as the backup, the acquisition of Diaz –at least on the surface– seemed odd.
But this isn’t an acquisition that we should sleep on. Aside from the obvious depth issues (Falk would be getting at least 10 minutes a night if there were an injury to one of the top-six), the Rangers are one of the worst in the NHL at getting production from their blue liners. Diaz isn’t just some scrub pick up. He’s got more points than Moore, Stralman, Klein, Falk, and Staal. From offensive production alone, he’s already third among Rangers blue liners.
Diaz isn’t just a one-trick pony either. When you compare him to the other guys not named Staal, Girardi, or McDonagh, his peripherals actually look better. He doesn’t drive as much possession as Stralman (from a relative standpoint, which is critical when comparing teammates), but he’s much better than Moore, Klein, and Falk. Diaz also faces tougher competition and starts fewer of his shifts in the offensive zone.
He may not get much ice time initially, but Diaz is someone who can help offensive production from the blue line in a much more effective manner than half of the current blue line corps. The problems lie in style of play. He’s not a physical defenseman, and he relies mostly on positioning in his own zone.
At the very least, Diaz represents a significant upgrade on Falk in case of injury. Defensive depth has been an issue beyond the top-five over the past few years, and Falk hasn’t exactly instilled confidence in the fan base (or coaching staff) that he can be effective with third pairing minutes. This may have been an off-the-radar move, especially with the Ryan Callahan/Martin St. Louis trade, but it’s a move that could play a big role in the playoffs.