Jonathan-Ismael Diaby

Much has been made of Seth Jones’ background as an American who grew up with a basketball-playing father, but Victoriaville’s Jonathan Diaby may have him beat: his father was a pro soccer player in Africa, making Diaby an NHL prospect whose lineage comes from the Ivory Coast nation.

“I guess I’d be the first one,” said Diaby, who was born in Blainville, Que. “They don’t really know much about hockey there, so it would be fun.”

Diaby’s father settled in Montreal after coming to Canada on a trip and falling in love. The former soccer player now runs a trucking company, which is fitting since his kid is an 18-wheeler on the ice.

“Big is an understatement,” said one scout. “He came into the combine at 250 pounds and at 6-foot-5, I don’t know if he’s done growing. He’s going to be interesting. He may be one of the most naturally physical players in the draft.”

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. Along with proving that the Quebec League can bring toughness to the table, Diaby also helped his team to a huge upset of the Moncton Wildcats in the first round of the playoffs, despite the fact the Cats had 10 more wins in the regular season.

“It was a big season for me personally in Victoriaville, being my third year and going in as a leader,” Diaby said. “For the playoffs, we were a special group of guys and we got to do great things against Moncton.”

His late birthday means that Diaby had an extra season to grow in the ‘Q,’ more so skill-wise since the frame was doing just fine on its own. Talent hawks would like to see him think the game better, but saw him make strides in that area.

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“I really like the upside,” said the scout. “Every year you can see him gradually figuring it out.”

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, though he did place second among Victoriaville blueliners this season with four goals and 26 points in 67 games.

“It’s my 1-on-1 play,” he said. “I have a good reach, use my stick pretty well and I love to use my body. Lately I was watching Marc Methot’s game. He’s solid, plays heavy and is safe defensively.”

A beast on the ice, Diaby threw down with fellow draft-eligible big man Samuel Morin of Rimouski (6-foot-6, 203 pounds) and also had a cracking tilt with P.E.I. enforcer Jack Nevins. But despite the shadow he casts with his hulking frame, Diaby is an affable young man who values loyalty. That’s why he and his best friend got matching tattoos recently, featuring the phrase “People come in and out of your life but only the real ones stay.”

Come June 30 in New Jersey, one NHL team will secure Diaby’s rights and will likely do so in the second or early third round. That franchise will hope they’ve found a real one who will stay on their blueline for years to come.

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