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Alex Chiasson and the NCAA: The Road Less Travelled

Jeff Angus takes a look at the journey of Alex Chiasson through the NCAA.

I am taking a one week hiatus from my WHL focus with today’s piece on Alex Chiasson.

Chiasson’s rise to the top of the Dallas prospect list (he may not be the clear cut top prospect, but the argument could be made) is not the typical story of a young hockey talent from the province of Quebec. The majority of Quebec-born players choose to spend their developmental years in the QMJHL (the Quebec and Maritime branch of the Canadian Hockey League).

Chiasson, however, decided to play college hockey, spending three years at Boston University. Has the move paid off for the young winger?

The QMJHL is known for producing prolific scorers – Mario Lemieux, Sidney, Crosby, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Dale Hawerchuk, Guy Lafleur, Mike Bossy, and Denis Savard all played their formative years in the QMJHL. And the likely 1st overall pick in next June’s NHL Draft, Nathan MacKinnon, is currently playing there with the Halifax Mooseheads.

Chiasson decided to pursue the college route at a young age. He left Canada in Grade 10 to finish his high school in New York. He arrived in the States not knowing a single word of English, and he is now fluent. At the age of 18, he played in the USHL for the Des Moines Buccaneers in order to maintain his college eligibility. He recorded 50 points and 101 PIM in 56 games that year, and impressed Dallas enough for them to select him with the 38th overall pick in the 2009 Draft.

Chiasson had committed to Boston University (BU), and he spent the next three seasons developing his hockey skills as a Terrier. Several former and current NHLers are proud BU alumni, including Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis), Colin Wilson (Nashville), Chris Drury (rich), Rick DiPietro (Long Island), Tony Amonte (retired), Keith Tkachuk (retired), and Mike Eruzione, the captain of the Miracle on Ice squad from the Lake Placid Olympics.

Most of you know a lot about Chiasson. And if you don't, the ongoing Defending Big D prospect profiles will ensure you are up to speed on Chiasson's development.

A quick scouting report on Chiasson from Texas GM Scott White:

He’s a big man, right shot. He’s more cerebral than I thought he was. He’s been well coached. The detail of his game defensively is good, he makes good decisions with the puck, he’s strong along the wall and I sense that will improve because he’ll get some added strength over the summer, which he needs. He’s got a big frame, he just needs to fill out a little bit.

The purpose of today’s post is to find out more about his career as a Terrier. And for that, I spoke with Kevin Dillon from the Boston Hockey University Blog. You can find the blog on Twitter @BOSHockeyBlog.

Was there a lot of hype surrounding Chiasson upon his arrival at B U?

Certainly there was some hype surrounding Chiasson upon his arrival at BU. Most fans base their expectations on the incoming recruits by where the player is drafted. As a 2nd round pick, Chiasson was the highest-drafted recruit in the 2009-10 recruiting class. Even {BU coach} Jack Parker called him "probably the top prospect in [the] freshman class." When Parker calls someone the top prospect of the class, he instantly gains hype among BU hockey fans.

Was turning pro after his third season the right move? Why or why not?

Turning pro following his third season was the right move for Chiasson. His junior year featured a significant jump in which he became a much more consistent top-line forward for BU. He took fewer ill-advised penalties and made better decisions with the puck, which was part of the reason Parker used his line so much. As a power-play contributor and a valuable member of the penalty kill, Chiasson had become a more complete player at the collegiate level.

What are his strengths? Weaknesses? How did his game evolve over his three years?

The thing that stands out about Chiasson on the ice is his size and how he uses it. There were not many better in Hockey East with protecting the puck and cycling with it than he was. He is a traditional power forward that has good strength and a good shot. While he is not slow, he is also not going to blow you away with his speed. He is tough to move in front of the net though, and is not afraid to go for the puck in the dirty areas.

That being said, Chiasson still has work to do with being a more consistent goal scorer. At the professional level, scoring goals will become even tougher, so he will have to work on capitalizing on more of the chances he gets, because he gets a lot of them. That might just be nitpicking though, as there were not many visible weaknesses to Chiasson’s game at the collegiate level.

As far as how far he has come in his three years at BU, I would say the biggest thing he has improved on has been his maturity. As a younger player, Chiasson had games where he would disappear on the ice and he did not appear to be giving 100 percent effort each shift. However, he was named assistant captain his junior year and matured significantly, even becoming one of the team’s hardest working players and best leaders.

What kind of NHL player does he project to be? How soon can he get there?

In my eyes, he projects to be a second or third line NHL power forward that can be a valuable contributor at both ends of the ice. He is a hard worker that has the skill to be a scoring forward. He works well with his teammates and cycles the puck well in the offensive zone. I think that after a year in the AHL he could crack the NHL roster as a third or fourth line player.

His big step forward seemed to be between freshman and sophomore year. What changed?

From freshman to sophomore year he added weight and got stronger, which made it easier for him to go up against some older Hockey East defensemen. However, I would say that his improvement in maturity and leadership between his sophomore and junior year was a more significant jump because it made Chiasson the go-to guy for BU. Chiasson always had the skill and size, which helped him lead the team in points in his sophomore year. However, he figured out more of the mental part of the game between his sophomore and junior year, which I think will better serve him as he competes for a job at the NHL level.

Chiasson spent the 2010 summer training with Patrice Bergeron. Not a bad workout partner...

Any comparisons to past or present NHLers for Chiasson?

If he can add weight, Chiasson’s mix of size and skill with the puck would make him comparable to David Backes of the St. Louis Blues. Chiasson is similar to Backes due to his ability to overpower defensemen with his size and his craftiness around the net. Like Backes, Chiasson is a good passer and scores a lot of his goals off rebounds or off quick shots from in close. Chiasson even took faceoffs toward the back half of last season and could play both the center and wing positions, although he is better at wing.

While at BU, Chiasson developed into a complete player. He was used on the penalty kill, and the college hockey schedule gave him ample time to add some size to his 6-5 frame. He played some center, and he quickly adapted to the position. BU lost star forward Charlie Coyle to the QMJHL in the middle of the 2011-12 season. The move didn’t have a negative effect on Chiasson’s play.

The off-ice component of NCAA sports is likely a reason why Chiasson chose to go the college route. In junior hockey, players typically have a couple of games a week mixed in with long bus rides. It is tough for them to spend a lot of time in the gym during the season.

However, NCAA hockey players play far fewer games, and spend a lot of time training. They have full access to world class coaching and facilities. Les Jackson still sees a lot of room for growth with Chiasson.

He could probably play at 220 or so, and he probably will at some point. When he’s 24 or 25, he’ll be at full maturity and he’ll be a handful to deal with. He’s got a big body, but right now his mind is more advanced than his body – and that’s not a bad thing. He’s a smart guy who’s got a mind for hockey.

Chiasson weighs close to 210 pounds now after a summer of training. He is expected to play a significant role on the Texas Stars in 2012-13. Chiasson on his summer of training:

I’ve put a lot into my eating habits and my training. You see these guys in the NHL, they are so fit and in such great shape. I’ve bought into this. You see those guys like (Steven) Stamkos and (Jeff) Skinner, they train with Gary and they eat like he says. It definitely pays off. They don’t get as good as that for no reason. I’m a young guy, I am trying to learn. That’s my goal.

Chiasson may not have star upside, but in his time at college he shored up some weaknesses in his game, added size and strength, and was effective playing a number of different roles for the Terriers. He turned pro at the right time, not only for his own development, but the Terriers hockey program has been under intense scrutiny due to the actions of some former players.

The situation isn’t exactly at the Penn State level, but it is enough to distract the current members on the Terriers hockey team.

The college or CHL debate is one with no definitive answer, but judging from what we have seen with Chiasson over the last three years, he made the right call spending three years at Boston University.