Alex Chiasson and Ray Whitney have flanked a center together almost exclusively since Chiasson debuted near the trade deadline of last season's abbreviated campaign. In April I explored the relationship a little. Since that time the relationship has further cemented itself.
Chiasson has four goals at even strength this season. All four were with Whitney on the ice.
Over Chiasson's brief career they have 251 minutes together at even strength compared to 74 minutes apart. The 74 minutes apart includes some Ray Whitney injury time. They are rarely apart.
In the 2013 season the duo got drilled in the Corsi battle to the tune of being a 41% Corsi pair when on the ice together. Chiasson shooting 46.2% saved the line from being a disaster down the stretch.
They've been quite a bit more effective this year as a duo, coming in at 50%. Some of that improvement is coaching. Some of that improvement is the development of Chiasson. Whatever reason you want to cite, they have been better.
The general thought since Chiasson's promotion has been that Whitney has acted like a safety blanket for Chiasson given the offense he creates. Maybe, but a few data points suggest that Chiasson might be more like a restrictor plate for Whitney. There are numerous factors in play, but in the time Whitney has been away from Chiasson he has performed at a significantly higher level than with him.
Last season Whitney has a 52.2% Corsi player without Chiasson compared to 41.3 together. This season Whitney is plugging along at 61.6% without Chiasson compared to 50% when together. If memory serves me correctly some of Whitney's time apart came with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, but the point remains.
The Stars have been successful of late, but the issue which has plagued them all season has been secondary scoring. The second line has eight even strength goals on the season. Three of those were in the first three games courtesy of Chiasson. On a related note, Chiasson has one even strength goal over his last 16 games since his initial three game goal streak to start the season.
The most predictable dry spell this side of Eric Nystrom has set in, but Chiasson has shown tangible improvement this year compared to last regardless of his production. In 2013 he attempted 2.93 shots per 15 minutes. He has bumped that up to 3.8 per 15 minutes in 2014. He has done most of that with Whitney, but progress is progress.
The challenge for Chiasson is going to be generating legitimate offense away from Whitney. Chiasson has taken 33 shots at even strength this year with Whitney on the ice from an average distance of 24 feet.
Without Whitney? Three shots from an average distance of 50 feet...
....and maybe one could be considered a scoring chance. Chiasson looks the part of a top six forward, but this situation is a red flag long term. Ray Whitney is 41. The Stars can't count on the two playing together much further into the foreseeable future. For Chiasson to truly become a top six forward he is going to need to generate offense apart from Whitney.
The good news in Chiasson's favor is that he hasn't really had the chance to do so yet as an NHLer. This season he and Whitney have been apart for only 38 minutes. Chiasson has thrown 10 pucks in the direction of the net in that time. Three were low-chance shots, and the others either missed the net or were blocked. Given his age, skill set, and the lack of an opportunity to prove himself without Whitney there is no reason to be down on his potential.
This does raise the question of what is better for the Stars this season though. Should the Stars separate the duo by putting Chiasson on the third line with Rich Peverley taking his second line shift in the hopes of increasing offense? The downside to that is the second line wouldn't have much size. An alternative could be Erik Cole, with the third line anchored by Peverley and Chiasson.
Or, should the Stars stick with Chiasson on the second line in the hopes that he will continue to develop rapidly in crucial minutes as compared to developing as a third liner? This option seems like it would give the Stars opportunities to increase their secondary scoring while still allowing Chiasson to develop. Theoretically it could allow him to develop more rapidly by not forcing him to rely so heavily on Whitney.
It seems likely that the Stars will stick with the status quo on the second line. They should at least consider breaking them up if the goal drought goes on much further.