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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Next Chapter

Hands up everybody out there who saw Alex Chiasson being a big difference-maker for the Edmonton Oilers this season when they signed him to one of the three PTO’s that general manager Peter Chiarelli was handing out last September. Me either.

Sure, Chiasson had 381 NHL games and a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals on his resume when he was signed to that PTO, which came after deals inked by Scottie Upshall and Jason Garrison, but he was supposed to be a depth guy, somebody to maybe push Jesse Puljujarvi. Ty Rattie and Kailer Yamamoto.

Well, Chiasson certainly did that, pushing all three of them below him in the Oilers’ line-up and becoming one of the best bargains and stories right around the league in the process with 16 goals in his first 31 games – 10 more than Puljujarvi, Rattie and Yamamoto combined. That’s not a storyline I expected even a little bit when training camp began.

The next chapter in this unlikely story begins tonight when Chiasson returns to Ken Hitchcock’s line-up against the Los Angeles Kings after missing three games with a bad knee. With the Oilers just ending a six-game losing streak and trying to stay in playoff contention during a stretch when Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell have been out and nobody not named Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been capable of scoring a goal to save their lives, the timing couldn’t be better.

BACK AT IT

Dec 16, 2018; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Alex Chiasson (39) celebrates his goal against Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) (not pictured) with forward Connor McDavid (97) during the third period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

“We don’t look at it so much from the goals, the goals are going to come and go,” said Hitchcock, who will start Chiasson on a line with Tobias Rieder and Nugent-Hopkins against the Kings. “He obviously had a hot stick, but I don’t know if that’s going to transport to the next game. He’s a really good player for us. He manages the game, he’s a really good complementary player who’s really good on the power play. We get a multi-dimensional player back in.”

Chiasson is third on the team in goals. He adds depth and takes some of the pressure off McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins, who have been leaned on for ice time and production too much so far this season. He helps 5-on-5. He helps on the power play with five goals with the man-advantage. The question is how long it’ll take him to get back up to speed.

“I think it’s going to be sore for a little bit and the range of motion might take a little longer to get to 100 per cent,” Chiasson said of his knee.  “But with the last four days of skating, my body adapted to everything really well. I think it’s also a confidence thing for me, going on the ice and feeling confident that I can go out and play and help the team.

“Being honest here, I only had three shifts in the game I got hurt, so with the Christmas break it was a lot of days off for me. It’s been a little bit of time away from the game . . . I’m going to do my best to come in and help the team. The plan for me is to just play a simple game for the first 10 minutes, get my feet under me. What’s been good in the last couple of days is that I’ve been able to feel the puck a lot, work on my shot. Those are the things that are key for me.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

Nov 25, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings goalie Cal Petersen (40) makes a save off a shot by Edmonton Oilers right wing Zack Kassian (44) during the first period at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Zack Kassian will start with Draisaitl and McDavid again against the Kings. Kassian was very good in Wednesday’s slump-busting 3-1 win over Arizona – he had an assist, could have had a goal and played 19:44 – but I’m not sure he’s a long-term fit there. I think that slot goes back to Chiasson, once he shows he’s got his legs back, or maybe Rattie. In any case, Chiasson provides an option Hitchcock didn’t have at the tail-end of the losing streak.

The Oilers have to make some hay in this next relatively soft stretch of five games to claw back the points they bled recently and, as unlikely as it seemed not that long ago, the return of Chiasson could play a big part in that. I’m a sucker for underdogs like Chiasson but I enjoy watching a great storyline unfold even better, and this could be the next chapter in that.

WHILE I’M AT IT

I was a fan of the big, bad Boston Bruins growing up in the 1970’s and, apparently, I’m not alone in that when it comes to people in Alberta. Jack Cookson, the owner of Pro-Am Sports, the top sports memorabilia business around here, tells me he sells more Boston gear than any team except the Oilers and Calgary Flames.

So, I’m pumped that a team of Bruins’ alumni is coming to Red Deer March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, to play a team of locals called the Red Deer HOPESTARS in a game at the ENMAX Centrium to benefit two local charities — the Mustard Seed and the Shalom Counselling Centre in Red Deer.

The roster isn’t finalized yet, but it’s expected the Bruins will be bringing Ray Bourque, Terry O’Reilly, Rick Middleton, Al Iafrate, Joe Mullen and former Oilers David Shaw, Dan Lacouture, Ken Linseman and Bob Beers. Brian Sutter will be the Bruins’ alumni coach. If you’d like to find out more about it or buy tickets, you can do that here or here.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    I’ll be honest, I knew we’d sign Chiasson, but I didn’t see THIS. Guys been a STUD (which is a good or bad thing, depending on who you are), and I’m really happy for him. Best #39 in the league BAR NONE

  • Clayton

    Ill be honest, I am worried Chia is going to try and extend this guy. I think this season is an aberration and he will likely drop off, yet Chia will likely pay him like he a 30-40% goal scorer and forget that he is shooting at nearly 30% when his career average is 13%. He will return to who he has been his whole career…a 13% shooter averaging .25 ppg. Just hope it doesn’t happen too soon!

    • Hooker

      I’ll bet Chia doesn’t get 5 goals the second half. That’s just the way it goes for guys like him, the injury will be like midnight for this Cinderella season

  • Heschultzhescores

    Maybe it’s all about opportunity. I’m sure he was not used on the top line or PP in Washington. He’s definately making the most of his opportunity. We need more guys realizing this is their chance at leaving a legacy or a leglazy.

  • What happens when we start to get d guys back. I am worried that Jones will get sent down cause of contract stipulation. Can anybody answer this cause he deserves to stay up and being sent down for no reason hurts development. Anybody?

  • He didn’t even know if he was going to play in the NHL this year. His career trajectory seemed like one of those bottom-6 guys who burn out after a fee years and try their luck in the minors or Europe. He just won a stanley cup at 28 years old and had an education from Boston U, nobody would’ve blamed him for moving on from hockey. Now we’re looking at a potential 20-30 goal guy with his prime years right ahead.

    • I’d argue the prime years part of your comment. At 28, he’s near the end of his prime based on what we know about most players. That said, it doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of 3-4 more good years where he scores some goals and makes some money.

      • Who said repeatable? Chiasson isn’t going to score at the same rate he has for the rest of this season, Let’s say he ends up with 25-27 goals. I don’t think it’s a stretch, given the opportunity here because of lack of depth on the wings, he could be an 18-20 goal guy if he gets the same minutes as high in the line-up. That qualifies as scoring some goals and he’ll certainly make some money.

        • Randaman

          I meant repeatable as in not to resign him unless it is a value contract. New GM required that understands what a value contract is. If he won’t sign for value, see ya. Steve Yzerman would have no problem standing up to that…

  • Soccer Steve

    Let’s be honest, this is more than likely a flash in the pan. Love it for the guy, I hope he keeps scoring and I also hope he gets term and dollars next season. But not from us, because our current “GM” (quotes because I don’t consider Chiarelli an actual GM. He’s a snake oil salesman, at best) will overpay and/or give too much length. Flip him at the deadline to try to negate some of the recent idiocy.

  • Leo Tard

    Alex has been a stroke of luck….It is my belief that he has become the fourth best forward on the team. Maybe the 5th most important player on the team. Way to go Alex. May your career be long and may the OIL PROSPER!!!

  • Randaman

    I think it’s really funny that you describe the next five games as a SOFT part of the schedule. The other teams look at the Oilers and say hey, this should be a soft game. I tend to see it that way too. That’s the sad part of continuing to support this sad sack organization. Taking all my memorabilia to the thrift shop tomorrow. Seeing it on my wall just about makes me puke.

    • I said relatively soft part of the schedule, and that’s what it is. Three teams, LA, Florida and Arizona, have fewer points than the Oilers. The Ducks are four points up and the Sharks are the only real killer with 51 points. In the previous five games, four of the five teams had more points than the Oilers, including Vancouver (44), Winnipeg (52), the Sharks (51), and Tampa (66).

  • BringitbacklikeSlats

    Speaking of underdogs… I’m really happy for Zac getting a shot at some minutes which he handled capably.

    It’s my belief that he’s got far more upside than most give him credit for. Last year I felt he came out and played pretty well to start the year, and for whatever reason Mclellend relegated him to 4th line stop duty. I think it killed his confidence. All this after a playoffs in which he was indisputably an emotional catalyst for the team and indeed a difference maker.

    So kudos to Hitch for realizing the status quo wasn’t good enough and for recognizing effort, talent, and good play. this also frees up a guy like Chiasson to slot back in on a 2nd line in desperate need of burying pucks.

  • Randaman

    Next chapter should include McDavid, Draisaitl, Nuge, Klefbom, Bouchard, Larsson, Petrovic and Koskinin. I am not including players in the minors or junior except Bouchard because he’s a lock for next year. JP, Yamo & Chiasson could be here but I’m on the fence on those players