When you make your NHL debut and you score your first NHL goals these days, your phone is guaranteed to fill up with text messages of congratulations. It was no different for Dallas Stars forward Alex Chiasson. One of those texts came from Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins, and Chiasson sent a message back.
“I was just thanking him for the effort he put in with me,” said Chiasson. “He’s made me earn a lot of things and I think he has a lot of confidence in me down there. I’m glad to see that it transferred well here.”
So are the Dallas Stars. Chiasson has made an impact in his first four games since being called up from Texas following the NHL trade deadline. He’s picked up three goals and one assist in four games and has given the Stars a shot of youthful energy following the trades of Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow. Youthful energy that has helped the Stars climb up the standings and has them knocking on the door for that final playoff spot with just over two weeks left in the season.
"It’s been special, of course,” said Chiasson. “I’m just starting to soak this in, being a sponge and trying to get the best out of this experience. And of course, once you are up here, you want to stay.”
He’s been making a pretty good case. In his second game, a 3-1 win in Anaheim on Friday, he scored his first NHL goal, finishing off a give-and-go with Vernon Fiddler.
“That was a special one. That’s a nice play too, a special way to score your first goal,” Chiasson said. “Fiddler made just a great play. I didn’t think he was going to give it to me. I watched the replay a couple of times, he dragged that defenseman and put it right on my stick. All I had to do was celebrate.”
The next game there was more to celebrate. Chiasson scored two goals as the Stars rallied to beat San Jose 5-4 in a shootout at the Shark Tank. Chiasson’s second goal was the result of a perfectly threaded pass off the stick of Ray Whitney.
“It’s the Wizard, anything can happen with him,” Chiasson said after the game. “He put it right on my tape, I put it between the goalie’s legs and there it was.”
And while Chiasson’s goal scoring in his first few games stands out, there is a lot more to his game and that’s what’s impressed veterans on the team.
“I know everybody looks at the goals, but it is his overall game that is more impressive," Dallas forward Ray Whitney said. "He gets goals by going to the net. All three of them are him driving to the net. He’s good with the puck in his own zone, he’s good getting the puck out of his zone, his overall compete level has been very good. Along the boards is where I’ve been most impressed. He just doesn’t grab the puck and throw it away. He’s willing to hold it, compete with it and he looks to make plays. Once he has space, he doesn’t just chuck it. He looks for somebody to make an actual play to.”
The 22-year-old has been playing right wing on a line with Whitney and center Jamie Benn over the last three games.
“I can’t complain right now, I am playing with two All-Stars,” said Chiasson. “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.”
There’s no doubt Chiasson benefits from playing with two All-Stars, but Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said Benn and Whitney reap benefits from having Chiasson as a linemate as well.
“What I really like is the detail in his game. He goes to the front of the net and he’s strong there. He doesn’t give away the puck. He’s strong and he’s patient there,” Gulutzan said. “He complements those guys very well. He takes the pressure off Jamie because he’ll go to the net and play in those heavy areas and it frees ‘Benny’ up to be a little freewheeling and move with ‘Whits.’ He does the little things well and he’s got to keep doing them.”
Opponents have taken notice of Chiasson, too. Heading into Tuesday’s game at American Airlines Center, Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter was asked about how the Stars look since trading Jagr, Roy and Morrow prior to the NHL trade deadline.
“Well, the boy (Chiasson) they put on right wing with Benn is a young Brenden Morrow. So knock off 10 years and say that’s Brenden Morrow,” Sutter said. “Jagr, as great a player as he is, is a difficult player to play with. And if you look at Dallas’ team, they’re similar to us in that you have a lot of forwards that play in straight lines and work hard. That’s what these young guys are doing for them.”
Chiasson is one of the several young players the Stars have been working into the lineup the past couple seasons, several of them draft picks. The Stars took Chiasson in the second round (38th overall) of the 2009 NHL Draft.
Chiasson, who is from Montreal, decided to pass on playing junior hockey in Canada and opted for the college route, so his development path has been a lengthy one.
“I wanted to get an education, that was always huge. Hockey-wise, I was a tall, skinny guy and I needed to put some weight on,” said Chiasson, who was 6-4, 187 pounds in his draft year, weighed in at 207 pounds to start this season and is now playing at about 200 pounds.
In 2007-08, he played a year at Northwood H.S. in Lake Placid, NY, where he had to quickly immerse himself in getting a handle on English.
“It took about three months,” he said. “I had a lot of people helping me, and I had tutoring every night.”
In his draft year – the 2008-09 season – he went to the United States Hockey League, where he played in Des Moines under former Minnesota North Star J.P. Parise.
“He helped me with my game,” Chiasson said of Parise, who is the father of Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise. “It was a great program there, and he was really good to me.”
Then it was onto Boston University, where he played under head coach Jack Parker and worked with Mike Boyle, considered one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the business.
“That was the only start of a long journey, but those people were good to me,” Chiasson said. “Mike Boyle worked a lot with me. Jack made me realize a lot of things – not just about hockey, but about life. I think I speak for a lot of guys that played for BU and played for him, and that’s what they would say.”
Chiasson spent three seasons at Boston University, racking up 99 points (36 goals, 63 assists) in 108 games. Last season, after his junior year ended, he headed to Cedar Park and played nine games for the Texas Stars, picking up one goal and four assists.
“Getting used to the pro life and meeting the guys, getting to know the guys I was going to be around, that was big,” Chiasson said.
He was hoping that would give him a boost heading into this season, his first full professional campaign. It didn’t work out that way, as Chiasson got off to a slow start. He had just one point – a goal – over the first 12 games, and at the 21-game mark, he had just 6 points (three goals, three assists). But with Desjardins pushing the right buttons, Chiasson started to turn things around. Over his next 36 games he racked up 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists).
“Consistency is really huge,” Chiasson said. “I wasn’t really used to a long season. Sometimes you go through ups and downs, but the main thing is every day, you’ve got to bring it. There are no excuses and this is what we do as a professional. These are the things Willie brings and when you come up here you really understand what he is saying.”
So far, four games into his NHL career, Chiasson has made the most of those lessons. But he knows that consistency isn’t built over four games and that there is still a lot work to be done.
“The reason you play in the American League is to play in the NHL,” he said. “Luckily I made it up and now you’ve got to work to stay here.”
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