In the final minute of the first period of just his second NHL game, Alex Chiasson received a pass as he exited the Dallas Stars defensive zone and aggressively skated up the middle of the ice. His quick move and pass to Vernon Fiddler on his wing quickly created a two-on-two situation against the Anaheim Ducks defense, as Chiasson showed another big burst as he cut up the middle. Blowing past Cam Fowler and out-muscling him to the net, Chiasson deftly redirected Fiddler's pass into the net past Viktor Fasth -- giving Chiasson his first NHL goal and the Stars an improbable 3-1 lead.
It was a very simple play and one that didn't show much skill, as much as it displayed a hunger and fight for the puck that perhaps hasn't existed as much for the Dallas Stars this season as it should have. Chiasson would follow up a strong performance against the Ducks with a brilliant game in San Jose, putting two more goals in the net while helping his team overcome two separate two-goal deficits in a big shootout win.
Chiasson has only been with the Dallas Stars for three games and yet his presence has already had a significant impact on the NHL team as they attempt to move forward after some significant changes leading up to the deadline. With three goals in his past two games and a big role on the top line, the big power forward is enjoying an incredible amount of success early on in his NHL career.
"It's been special, of course. I'm just starting to soak this in, being a sponge and trying to get the best out of this experience," said Chiasson on Monday. "And of course, once you are up here you want to stay. I can't complain right now, I am playing with two All-Stars. They've been really good to me and everybody has been really good to me around here. This has been a really good experience for me. I am really enjoying this."
With the Dallas Stars moving full-on forward into the so-called "youth movement" Chiasson has suddenly become the shining example of what some new blood can bring to a team fighting desperately to etch out some sort of positive momentum from an overall disappointing season. What he has brought to the Dallas Stars since jumping up to the NHL just prior to the trade deadline comes as no surprise to those that have followed him the closest.
Chiasson was selected in the second round of the 2009 NHL draft, a Canadian native playing for the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL who would soon be headed for Boston Univerisity. Never one to put up staggering offensive numbers, Chiasson was touted as a right wing with all of the tools needed for success as a great all-around player; good hands, great size, aggressive on the boards, nose for the puck and an above average "hockey intelligence".
During three seasons in the NCAA with Boston, Chiasson enjoyed some intense trials and tribulations. There was speculation about work ethic issues that spread to scouting websites, as well as some serious issues with the team itself that had several players suspended in 2011 and 2012. Through it all, Chiasson continued to grow and develop as a player and put up 15 goals and 46 points in his junior season at BU.
The jump to the AHL wasn't exactly a smooth transition and Chiasson found himself playing third and fourth line minutes in Texas, notching just three goals and six points in his first 21 games. After finding his confidence, and further working on his development with the Texas coaches, Chiasson found himself playing big minutes on the top line after the exodus of players once the NHL lockout ended. He responded with 10 goals and 19 assists in the next 36 games.
"It's just progression in my game. A lot of it has to do with [Willie Desjardins]," Chiasson said, crediting the Texas Stars coach for his growth this season. "He's made me earn a lot of things and I think he has a lot of confidence in me down there. Every day he is trying to get me a little better and as much as I am working, he is working with me. I'm glad to see that it transferred well here."
What's been interesting is how Chiasson has quickly found a role in Dallas, one that doesn't exactly fit what he was playing in Austin but certainly maximizes his impressive skill set. In college and with the Texas Stars, Chiasson was a playmaking winger from the boards who also played a power forward game; he would use his size and speed to create turnovers on the forecheck, win battles on the boards and get the puck to the net any way possible.
Chiasson has never been much of a sniper and excels when he's able to get the puck to linemates able to finish around the net. Yet Chiasson's size and strength also allow to be a force around the net and he's used that ability to quickly carve out a role that perfectly compliments linemates Ray Whitney and Jamie Benn. While Chiasson developed into a player capable of putting up the assists, he's always been a player more willing than most to drive the net and create havoc.
"I think I'm going to keep both," Chiasson told me back in 2009, right after he was drafted, when asked about whether he's a physical player or a skill player. "I think that's what makes me a good hockey player. When I play physical, that's when I score goals. It's great to say, but that's where it is. I like to go hard and play physical. I think they [Dallas Stars] really liked my work ethic on the ice. I'm a power forward that really likes to go to the net and they really liked me a lot."
Instead of having the pressure of coming in and being the playmaking winger from the boards, Chiasson has used his natural instincts and ability to get to the best spots on the ice to cash in on some tremendous plays by those around him. Not to say his performance thus far should be discounted; too many times the Stars have missed on crucial scoring chances because players didn't show the instinct of where to be around the net to bury a goal.
While the goals have certainly received the most attention, Chiasson has been a force along the boards and in front of the net, using his size and physical abilities to create trouble for the opposition. He's a deft and accurate passer, he's extraordinarily strong along the boards and he's certainly not afraid to get in and lay the big hit on the forecheck.
What has perhaps been most impressive is how Chiasson has quickly become the "net presence" player for the Stars -- getting signficant time on the power play against San Jose as a result. While he's yet to score on such a play, Chiasson has shown to be incredibly skilled at deflecting and tipping shots from distance. Add it all together and you have an incredibly impressive young forward that has quickly made an incredible impact on a team that certainly needed it.
"I know everybody looks at the goals, but it is his overall game that is more impressive," Stars veteran forward Ray Whitney said. "He gets goals by going to the net. All three of them are him driving to the net. His play with the puck in our own zone and protecting the puck in the offensive zone has been very good. He's a big body and a better skater than I initially thought he was."
What's even better about the development of Chiasson into what could be a very good NHL player is that his style compliments those of other young forwards coming up through the system. Reilly Smith is more of a skill forward and a more natural goal-scorer, while players like Matej Stransky and Brett Ritchie also show promise to become highly-skilled and physical power forwards.
For years we've discussed the future of the Dallas Stars and what that might look like; Alex Chiasson is now showing the Dallas Stars exactly what we've been waiting all this time for.