In terms of results, I’m not sure anybody knew what to expect from Alex Chiasson when he showed up at training camp with the Edmonton Oilers on a PTO at the start of last season fresh from earning a Stanley Cup ring as a role player with the Washington Capitals. Looking ahead to next season, it’s probably fair to say we still don’t.
What we do know is that Chiasson turned out to be a bargain and one of the best moves made by Peter Chiarelli after he produced a career-high 22 goals — fourth on the team behind Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – for the relatively modest $650,000 he was paid.
That earned Chiasson a two-year contract worth $4.3 million from POHO and GM Ken Holland as a UFA this off-season. I think that’s fair money for Chiasson. While we can reasonably debate whether he can provide an encore in terms of production after a season in which he shot the lights out early and finished with a 17.9 shooting percentage, there’s one thing Oilers’ fans can count on from the 28-year-old journeyman this coming season.
After five NHL stops and four straight seasons playing on one-year contracts, including last season’s PTO, since his entry level deal, Chiasson is a hungry player who’ll give the Oilers what’s he’s got, even if we’re not sure yet exactly what that will be. He takes nothing for granted, and is looking for a place to call home beyond a season or two. Is this it?
Over the years, I’ve met countless players of vastly different abilities – from marginal ham-and-eggers to guys who made it to the HHOF — who share one trait. No matter how much success they enjoy or how much money they make, they never take even one day wearing an NHL jersey for granted. Whether that’s reflected in commitment to training, on-ice practice, a willingness to do the dirty work or simply giving you everything they’ve got, sometimes all four, they never assume anything.
Kelly Buchberger was like that. So was Ryan Smyth, Likewise Mark Recchi and Jason Strudwick, to name just four. It’s almost as if they feel that if they ever let up and get comfortable, somebody is going to sneak up and tear the jersey off their back. Again, very different players, but they share many of the same traits. I put a guy like Chiasson in that group.
“I’m glad that everything worked out as it did because I’m in a place where I’ve kind of given a second wind to my career and I have a chance to play a certain role with a team that for me can be successful, which means a lot to me,” Chiasson said. “I wasn’t really looking at anywhere else.
“I think for me if you look over my career, the last three or four years have kind of been crazy. Moving around on one-year deals, two tryouts, and last year coming to Edmonton on a tryout and doing well after earning a contract, I think that was kind of eye-opening for me . . . I’ve always been a guy that when the season ends, I think of things that I can spend time on in the summer to try and get better.”
THE RIGHT PLACE
Who will Chiasson, who averaged 16:58 in ice time, play with this season? As primarily a bottom-six guy who is capable of moving up and down the line-up, how much time will he get with McDavid or Draisaitl or RNH at even strength? Can Chiasson repeat his production (8-7-15) on the power play? While scoring 22 goals again is a reach, can he score 14-18? The answers will depend on what the team looks like, how the pieces fit together.
“Obviously the season has ups and downs,” he said. “The majority of players go through that, and I think for me as a player one thing you’re looking at when you’re playing well is consistency. There are nights where you won’t be able to produce offensively, but at the same time you’ve got to do other things to help the team win.
“I think I’m a perfect example of a player in the past few years that’s moved around and then found his perfect place. With those guys, that’s what I’m looking forward to next year. I’m challenging myself to repeat, do more of the same, but adapt my game to be more consistent throughout the 82 games.”
Yes, consistency. Easier said than achieved. Chiasson scored 16 goals in Edmonton’s first 36 games and managed just six more the rest of the way — far closer to his career output rate. If he can just find that consistent middle ground he’ll get the chance to unpack his bags and stick around without having one eye on the door.