Alex Chiasson celebrating (AP Photo)
The Stars have emphasized size under Joe Nieuwendyk. The average height and weight of the prospects selected by Nieuwendyk in his three years of power is about 6'2 and 200 pounds. Size is a mythical quality front offices seek from their prospects that can very easily overshadow the other aspects of a players skill set, and it's very easy to fall into the trap. When you watch a physically imposing prospect like Jamie Oleksiak or Alex Chiasson play it's easy to look at them and see the problems their size creates for the opposition.
Big guys aren't always blessed with the most offensive talent though. More often than not teams will gamble on a player with size in the hopes that the player can develop enough offensive ability to make his size into a valuable NHL asset. Alex Chiasson doesn't fit the stereotypical "big lug" title. He has actual identifiable hockey ability, and production at a difficult level of amateur hockey to back up his talent.
In 37 games for Boston University Chiasson (Shay-sahn, not Chia-sun...I'm looking at you NBC Sports Network) has 44 points with the NCAA Tournament still to be played. In the past two seasons he has 78 points in 72 games. He came in fourth in Hockey East scoring this season, but first among non-Maine players, to lead the Terriers back to the tournament. The Stars have themselves a player here, and his professional career should begin with training camp in September (assuming there is a camp), but what do we know about him other than the fact that he's big?
The natural starting point of our discussion should be common knowledge. Chiasson is a big guy. He stands out on the ice in the NCAA against physically mature adults for his size. What stands out the most is how he uses his size. He goes to the front of the net with regularity. If he isn't in front of the net he's on the boards fighting for, or possessing, the puck. This is especially true on the powerplay where BU puts his big body out in front to cause chaos for the (generally) smaller penalty killers.
Where Chiasson differs from other big guys that get thrown in front of the net on the powerplay is his skating ability. He isn't a burner. He isn't going to generate breakaways from his own blue line with speed or anything. Last Friday he scored on a semi-breakaway where he was cheating a little bit towards the red line, and had the defenseman draped on him for most of his final pursuit to the net. Generating the burst needed for a breakaway isn't his game. Where his skating ability shows up is in both critical zones. He has the skating ability to create offensive zone pressure, and then get back to scoring position. A good example of what I'm talking about is this goal he scored against UMass on January 9th, 2011.
Go to the 1:54 mark of the video. Chiasson is number nine. Focus solely on him on the shift. He wins the puck battle in the corner. He passes the puck to the point, and goes to open ice where he receives the puck again almost immediately. He then skates into the high slot for what appears to be a slap pass to the skater in front for a deflection goal. It went in for Chiasson, but this one play shows the type of offensive ability he has. He's a smart offensive player that moves his feet and has good possession skills. I haven't watched every game he's played, but I've watched enough games of his (three or four) to see him pull off similar puck possession magic two or three times. I wasn't expecting to see that.
Make no mistake though, most of his goals come from in close. This goal is from two weeks ago against New Hampshire at 3:04 in the video . Chiasson scored in double overtime by going right to the net. Another example of Chiasson crashing the net can be seen at this link from October 22. He drove the defense back into the net and tapped in a nice pass against Holy Cross at the 0:35 second mark of the video. At the 1:26 mark of the video he scores again with a quick release off of a faceoff win. In this final link Chiasson scores two more. Go to the 1:21 mark and you'll see Chiasson use a nice toe drag to get into the slot for a goal. Move along to 2:50 and you'll see Chiasson score the overtime game winner from about seven feet.
The point, you might be asking, is that he scores mostly from close to the net, but he has the skill, size, and speed to get to those areas to generate offense. His NHL point equivalency sits at about 39 points now, but point equivalencies make a lot of assumptions about a player's ice time that can't be counted on when trying to project what a player will become. Chiasson (probably) isn't going to walk onto the roster and claim loads of powerplay time. He (probably) isn't going to come in playing top six minutes. Fortunately, Chiasson has enough to offer outside of point production to suggest that he'll be a quality NHL depth player as soon as next season even if he's average to below average offensively as a rookie.
BU used Chiasson on the penalty kill often when I watched them play. His size and skating ability lend themselves to killing penalties. He's able, if he chooses, to kill penalties up ice without getting caught out of position. His wing span takes away ice the powerplay team needs to generate chances. In the three games I watched I barely remember noticing him in the defensive end of the rink outside of one time where he made an errant pass to a spot on the ice where he thought a teammate was going to be. Another surprising aspect of Chiasson's game is that he takes faceoffs. We've heard him described as a winger since the day he was drafted, but this season he actually took 466 faceoffs to a 50% winning percentage.
The biggest drawback for Chiasson is how many penalties he takes. The Stars notoriously take too many penalties as is, and have players that take too many penalties playing tough defensive minutes (Steve Ott and Sheldon Souray). Unless the composition of the Stars core changes in the near future (a realistic probability as the current core continues to age) he's going to add to a group that takes too many needless penalties. The Stars can definitely use his size, but this season for BU he drew 63 penalty minutes in just 37 games which would put him in the running with Brenden Morrow and Ott for the club lead in PIM if he maintained that pace over an 82 game schedule. It would be nice if he could cut down on the penalties, but every player is going to have warts of some kind.
Chiasson, right now, looks like an NHLer. His possession skills alone would make him a nice depth player on the roster. When I talked about Tomas Vincour before the season, my main focus was on his ability to possess the puck. Chiasson has a lot of similar qualities that suggest he's going to at least be a solid NHL regular for a long time. The main difference between the two is that Chiasson drives right to the net almost at will in the offensive zone. He gets to scoring position the way Vincour needs to, and, at least in college, it has led to above average production. Ultimately his possession skills, size, and skating ability are going to earn him a steady NHL paycheck as a bottom six forward as early as next season, but how well his ability to drive the net translates to the NHL is going to determine how big that check gets.