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
“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
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.