ALEX CHIASSON won a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in June of 2018. He celebrated with his teammates and family and then July came and once again he was an unrestricted free agent. Despite winning a Cup, no one called. July turned to August and then the calendar turned to September and Chiasson was without a contract. It was a harsh reminder of the reality of the business. Chiasson had to prove himself all over again and he signed a Professional Tryout (PTO) with the Edmonton Oilers on September 10th.
He showed up to his seventh NHL training camp without a guaranteed contract. He would have to earn a spot.
Chiasson played four preseason games and picked up two assists. He was strong on the wall, reliable in his own zone, but he wasn’t flashy. His play earned him a one-year contract at the league minimum $650,000. The Oilers played their first regular season game on October 6th. Chiasson didn’t dress. In fact he watched the first five games from the pressbox, before he got in the lineup against Nashville on October 20th.
He only played 7:28, mainly with Ryan Strome and Milan Lucic.
Three nights later he was back in the lineup against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He skated on a line with Zack Kassian and Kyle Brodziak. He played six shifts for a total of 3:25 in the first period. On his first shift in the second period he scored. Then twelve minutes later, at the end of a 1:15 shift, he scored again. Kassian and Brodziak had changed eight seconds earlier, and Leon Draisaitl and Tobias Rieder came on and the trio combined for a goal. Eight seconds had a major impact in Chiasson’s season.
Chiasson skated with them for a few more shifts in the third period and two nights later against the Washington Capitals he started on Draisaitl’s right wing. He scored again and Chiasson’s career year was off to a great start.
He would score six goals in his first eight games and earned the trust of head coach Todd McLellan. He was on the second unit PP against the Capitals and a few games later he was promoted to the top unit. He scored a career high eight powerplay goals, although it wasn’t the most PP TOI he had in his career. In his rookie season with the Dallas Stars Chiasson played 265 on the PP and produced 6-7-13. Last year with Edmonton he played 191 on the PP and tallied 8-7-15.
He fit in well on the top PP unit desperate for a right shot forward who could be a net front presence. Chiasson filled the void and he finished the season with a career-best 22 goals and 38 points.
Chiasson tied for 88th among NHL forwards in goals and 147th in points. He had top-six forward production last season. Of course if you dig deeper on his EV scoring it was not at the level of a top-six forward. He produced about the same as he had in the previous years.
He had 20 5×5 points in 2014 and 2017 and 18 in 2015. He matched his career-high with 20 in 2019.
If he wants to be a regular top-six forward he will need to produce more, but I don’t discount powerplay points as quickly as some do. It is still difficult to produce, regardless of the situation, and if Chiasson can score on the PP and chip in 20 points at even strength then he will be worth the $2.15 million.
Chiasson played 17 minutes/game last season, the most of his career by almost two minutes.
As a rookie in 2014 with Dallas he played 15:07/game. The next two seasons in Ottawa, he averaged 13:23 and 13:38. In 2017 with the Calgary Flames he played 13:23, and in 2018 with Washington he averaged 11:46. He wasn’t expecting to play that much, and at times he admitted he was tired.
Can he repeat last year? Can he be better?
Chiasson joined me on my show radio show on TSN 1260 last week to discuss his new contract and get his thoughts on the Oilers and specifically what he plans on doing to have similar production this season.
Jason Gregor: Did you talk to other teams during free agency or was Edmonton your primary focus the entire time?
Alex Chiasson: I think it was safe to say that I had been pretty honest with the organization and with the media in Edmonton since January that my goal, number one was to come back in Edmonton. But yes, I did have some conversation with different teams, but with that being said my main goal was to get something done with the Oilers, and I’m glad that things got figured out and everything got settled before free agency started Monday morning.
Gregor: Alex, I remember last season during the year, you talked about how playing with Connor [McDavid] and Leon [Draisaitl], particularly Connor. They play with such high pace and Connor’s ability to play at 100% for a long shift, you were like, ‘I can’t blow gas as long as he does.’
When you look at the depth chart, outside of Draisaitl, you’re the most productive winger they have so you know a top-six role is right there to grab. Will you alter how you train to want to be able to play with pace longer with those guys, or are they on a different level, so your training is kind of going to maintain the same?
Chiasson: I’m not sure how many guys in the league can keep up with Connor. I think he’s shown how good of a player he is, but also how much energy he can play with within, from 60 seconds to 90 seconds he might be the only guy in the league that has the same amount of pace in his game for that amount of time.
But I did change a little bit of my training so far this summer. I’ve spent more time on endurance, things that I may not have done as much as before this summer. I think this year I realized quite a bit, obviously playing more minutes and some of the travel, the games where minutes got up to 18, 19, 20 minutes where I felt were I wasn’t as tough in my game at certain times in the third period. You want to be a guy who can be relied on when there’s a tie game, or there is five minutes left in the game and you can still contribute to the success of the team and your quality of play still is as high as it was in the first period.
With that being said, my skating has never been the greatest part of my game, but I think there’s always a chance for a player to improve things, whether it’s off of the ice or on the ice and adapt with the new generation. I think that I’ve done that over my career. I’m 28 years old and I’m going to do the same thing (adapting) until I’m done playing.
Gregor: You played in Calgary so you had been in the Western conference and you handled the travel. Was it just the combination of the travel when you’re playing that many minutes that was that much more taxing for you?
Chiasson: Yeah I think so. I mean that may have something to do with it. At the same time, whether it was Todd [McLellan] or Hitch [Ken Hitchcock] as the head coach I think that a lot of us, the guys that play more minutes, we had a lot of optional days and things like that. So I think dealing with travel is just part of the business of playing out west.
I’ll be the first one to admit that if you look at my average ice time over my career, I was a guy who played anywhere from 12 to 14, 15 minutes where I had basically created a training plan at home where I could be efficient with those minutes.
Now, things have changed. I’m obviously put in a different role and that’s what you want as a player. Now I’m being challenged to change some of the areas of my game. Some of my training, and I think that it’s kind of funny because I’m 28 years old and I’m still adapting to get better and I think that’s a neat thing. I spent some time at the end of the year speaking with Chad [Drummond] our strength coach, and we created a plan for this summer and it’s been great so far and I’m looking forward to the season.
BETTER TEAM DEFENCE…
Gregor: The number one area the Oilers have to improve on as a group is to limit your goals against. I was looking just to be middle of the road, it is 27 fewer goals. Most of the main players are going to return, so what do you feel the group has to do better to cut down on goals against?
Chiasson: Obviously there is going to be a new coaching staff. It’s fair to say that the majority of the guys who have played for Dave Tippett say he’s a coach who is really structured. He’s got a plan. And I think that the majority of the guys, if not everyone, will know what to expect and what their role is going forward with Dave. So I think that’s a big key for this organization, show a little bit of stability.
As a player you want to be put in the position obviously to be successful, but you also want to be put in the position where you know where the coaching staff and the people of the organization is expecting out of you.
And then the second thing, at the end of the day we have to defend better. We’re a team that spent too much time in our end and with the quality of the players we have up front, we have to be a team that’s harder to play against in the offensive zone, a team that can create second, third, and fourth chances. That’s going to limit our defensive time to defend.
I haven’t spent a lot of time watching the playoffs this year, I needed a break from the game a little bit. But some of the games you watch, you see teams break out the puck really clean. They’re up in the neutral zone. They play as a system of five. These are all things that when you do those things well, you don’t have to defend as much as we have last year.
Gregor: You’ve consistently been about an eleven goal scorer in the NHL, and in the past you didn’t get some of the other opportunities this year, specifically on the power play. You really took advantage of that. How much more confidence do you have and have you altered your personal goals heading into this year?
Chiasson: Yeah for sure. I think every player will admit when you’re given the chance of opportunity and playing with confidence and all of these things, kind of work together in motion. I think last year for a good amount of time during the year I was in a groove where whether it was a bad period or a bad shift I knew the next time there was a power play or something like that, I was the next guy thrown out there for the first unit for a minute, if not 80 seconds.
Those are things that keep you in the momentum of the game. You’re not sitting so much on the bench and that was a big part of my success, because I was able to generate the confidence in my game as the game went on. So obviously I’ve kind of proven in my career that I was a ten to twelve goal scorer five-on-five and now I’m being given the opportunity to play power play with some of the best players in the league. Last year I think that I had eight power play goals and off of the top of my head I had a couple more chances that could have gone in. Right there that’s eight goals that you add to your resume and now you can push to be a 20-goal scorer.
I’m going to prove that I can be that player again. So I’ve been given the opportunity and I think that, really, anything can happen.
Gregor: You come across as very honest and self-aware of where you are a player. I would assume that you are very similar with your teammates. In Washington you and [Alex] Ovechkin had a really good rapport and I’m hearing the same thing with McDavid. When you have a young superstar like that, Ovie was a little bit older at the time when you got into Washington, but with McDavid how important is it to be a sounding board for a guy like that who obviously drives himself a lot, but at the same time has a lot of pressure on him?
Chiasson: I was incredibly impressed how mature and respectful he is as a guy in the locker room or in the media at such a young age. There’s a lot going on. Arguably one of the best players on the planet. He’s a captain of a franchise in Canada; the media attention. And then he’s got to deal with what’s going on in the locker room, leadership council, meetings with the coaches and his own game, he’s got a lot on his plate.
I think the one thing that I’m looking forward to next year is to maybe take a little bit of that off of his plate. I think that I’m at a stage in my career where I feel more comfortable in my leadership. I’ve learned a lot along the way. I’ve obviously been challenged, I’ve played with a couple of different teams, a couple of different guys who were great leaders that I’ve been able to pick up some things from.
I’ve adapted and the way that I carry myself in the locker room now, so I’m looking forward to helping with that this year. To come in next year and to be, I’m already comfortable with the guys, be more of a leader from day one. And to me the respect that I get from those players, that means a lot because I think those guys were a big part of bringing me back to Edmonton for the next two years.
Gregor: Have you had a conversation yet with Dave Tippett?
Chiasson: I did actually. Thirty minutes or so after I signed, Dave gave me a call, just congratulated me on the contract and said he is looking forward for last year. I’m assuming in the next couple of weeks that we’ll talk again and maybe get a little deeper into some of the stuff that may be going on in training camp and the way that he wants things to be run in Edmonton. I played with a lot of guys at the start of my career in Dallas. Some of the older guys had him as a coach, and they all had great things to say about him. I’m looking forward to creating a relationship with him and I’m excited to see what we can do moving forward this year.
Training to play more minutes should help Chiasson be more consistent this season. I see no reason why he can’t be effective on the first powerplay again. The Oilers haven’t added a better right shot/net front presence option, and there aren’t many available on the free agent market.
If he can contribute 20 points at 5×5 that would be a good season. It was interesting to see how he had more success playing with Leon Draisaitl and Tobias Rieder than he did with McDavid and Draisaitl. That trio didn’t have great possession numbers, and with Draisaitl most likely skating with McDavid to start the season, I expect Chiasson will get a chance to play with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the second line or he will start on the third line with whichever centre they have.
Chiasson is good along the boards, he was solid, albeit in limited minutes, on the PK and is most likely a bottom six forward at even strength.
After four consecutive one-year contracts that totalled $3.25 million, Chiasson earned his first multi-year deal since he signed his entry-level contract on April 15th, 2012. It was many years of uncertainty, and I don’t expect Chiasson to be complacent now that he has a two-year contract. I sense he feels he can contribute more, both on and off the ice, and I’m curious to see how he performs next season.
He will have more confidence entering the season and he won’t have to wait until game six to get in the lineup. It is amazing what a difference one year can make and Chiasson is out to prove last year wasn’t just a one-hit wonder.
After having such a blast over the past two years, we absolutely knew that we were going to organize another golf tourney for the summer and, after a few months of planning, we’re psyched to finally be able to launch our third annual golf tournament.
- When – August 29th, 2019 (Thursday). Tee off at 2 p.m.
- Where – Cougar Creek Golf Resort
- How much – $1000/team or get in on the $900 Early Bird price until July 10th
- Teams – Groups of Four (4)
- How – Book your team here
As always, a portion of all proceeds from your ticket purchase will be donated directly to a local charity. This time we’ve partnered up with the Gregor Foundation to make sure that our kids are at their most handsome.