NHL Notebook: Edmonton Oilers prospect Jake Chiasson advances to WHL conference finals, the Toronto Maple Leafs benching Michael Bunting, and more

Zach Laing
11 months ago
Edmonton Oilers prospect Jake Chiasson and his WHL’s Saskatoon Blades are off to the WHL’s Eastern Conference finals.
The Blades did the unthinkable coming back from a 3-0 series deficit against the Red Deer Rebels to be able to advance. They became the third ever team in WHL history to do so.
Chiasson is now up to nine points in 14 playoffs games this year building off a regular season that saw him score 28 points in 37 games, and sign his entry-level contract with the Oilers. Against the Rebels, Chiasson scored two goals and six points in seven games.
Here’s some of what our own Bruce Curlock wrote about Chiasson in a recent prospect report:
Chiasson is a prospect I really want to be excited about. He’s got a pro-style body and some highly underrated offensive skills. His skating is not plus level, but it doesn’t hold him back. What tends to hold him back is his lack of willingness to drive play when he can do so. Now it is important to note this doesn’t Chiasson is a timid player as was some of the concern with Ryan McLeod in junior. He plays a hard game and plays inside well. He just seems more comfortable deferring to players around him instead of taking the initiative on his own. This was a pretty consistent them for Chiasson through the regular season although a mid-season trade to the Saskatoon Blades seemed revitalize Chiasson somewhat.

Bunting benched?

All signs are pointing to the Toronto Maple Leafs benching forward Michael Bunting as he returns from his suspension. Barred for three games for his hit on Erik Cernak, Bunting was the odd man out at Leafs practice on Wednesday.
Over at Daily Faceoff, Matt Larkin argued why it makes sense:
The left winger is due back in the series after serving his three-game suspension for interference and an illegal check to the head of Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak, who has still not returned to action for Tampa. The hit was an unforced blunder, a moment in which Bunting straight-up lost his composure, and while the Leafs were already down 4-2 in the game at that moment, they have since shown that a two-goal deficit is not insurmountable. It’s not a massive stretch to say Bunting cost them Game 1 or at least the chance to fight back in Game 1.
A week ago, it would’ve been an automatic assumption that Bunting would rejoin the lineup in Game 5. While not quite a core player, he’s been a lineup fixture for the past two seasons, primarily playing on a scoring line. He has back-to-back regular seasons of 23 goals. He has enough skill to play with anyone on the team, including Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, and blends that skill with an abrasive, agitating game that makes him a chore to play against. And yet: his replacement for Games 2-4, rookie Matthew Knies, was so impressive that Keefe has indicated he won’t be coming out. And during his Tuesday media availability, Keefe would even not commit yet to Bunting returning to take the place of someone else, be it Zach Aston-Reese or Sam Lafferty.
“So with Bunting being available, obviously he’s a very good player. He’s a good option for us because he’s a good player for us,” Keefe said on a Zoom call. “It’s not as easy or as simple as a decision as it may have been earlier in the series. We’re at a different time. So, we’ll take our time here and sort through it. We’ve got a group of guys that have played real hard.”
Some may feel the idea of keeping Bunting out is galaxy braining, that treating an established top-nine forward as unworthy of even top-12 work in Game 5 would feel like giving in to the superstitious Leaf fans who don’t want to touch anything. But you know what? I’m tossing logic out the window this time and siding with the spiritual. I said going into this series that Dubas had done the same at the deadline, prioritizing intangibles over pure numbers, and something is working in this series for Toronto. The Leafs have shown remarkable composure and pushback during situations in which they are known to fold. In my mind, the last thing they should do is bring back the one player who has quite spectacularly exhibited the absence of composure so far in this series.

Matthews 2.0?

While there are not a lot of draft storylines to follow these days as someone covering the Edmonton Oilers, when a player gets compared to Auston Matthews and Alex Ovechkin my ears perk up.
That’s exactly who Cole Eiserman, a top prospect in the 2024 draft, is drawing comparisons too.
Over in Switzerland, where the U18 World Hockey Championships are happening now, Daily Faceoff’s Steven Ellis profiled the sniper. Here’s some of what he had to say:
It’s fitting that a kid who wears No. 34 idolizes another No. 34. And plays like him, too.
Cole Eiserman is an exceptional prospect. Very few have a shot like his. That’s why, with eight goals in four games, he has the all-time U-17 American scoring record at the men’s U-18 World Hockey Championship. And there are still potentially three games to go for him to tie the all-time single-tournament record of 14, shared by Cole Caufield and Alex Ovechkin. With Eiserman at 68 goals this year, Caufield’s United States National Development Team single-season record of 72 is definitely in jeopardy.
So, yeah. Special indeed.
Special enough that scouts are starting to compare Eiserman to Auston Matthews, often regarded as one of the greatest players to come out of the USNTDP ever. Matthews recently had his single-season points record broken by Gabe Perreault. But given how his career has transpired with the Toronto Maple Leafs, his time with the American national team was just a sign of things to come.
Like Matthews, Eiserman jumped up to the U-18 USNTDP lineup as a 16-year-old. Matthews had modest numbers, scoring 12 goals and 17 points in 20 games. In comparison, Eiserman has 25 goals and 30 points in 17 games with the U-18 team, highlighted by his eight goals and nine points in four World Championship games. Eiserman’s season has been one of the best in USNTDP history, which, considering some of the talent that’s come through like Matthews, Patrick Kane, Matthew Tkachuk, Jack Eichel and Jack Hughes, is quite astounding.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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