He doesn’t have a fancy hockey pedigree or wow-did-you-just-see-that skills. All he does is score goals.
Dallas Stars rookie Alex Chiasson is scoring them with the sort of regularity generally associated with richly remunerated all-stars – in 18 regular-season NHL games dating back to last season, he has found the net 11 times.
Though he wasn’t able to claim bragging rights and two points this night - a 2-1 Habs win - Chiasson said afterward it was “awesome, every kid’s dream come true” to play in the Bell Centre.
“It was a a great experience. I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous,” he said.
He needn’t have been.
As is his custom, Chiasson had a couple of glorious scoring chances fall his way, including one at 7:18 of the second period where he batted a puck out of the air “When you’re playing against one of the best goalies in the world, that happens,” he said.
Chiasson also had a solid opportunity on a two-on-one in the third period, but couldn’t convert when the puck hopped over his stick.
“They’re the kind of chances I often get, I wish I’d been able to capitalize, it was probably the difference,” he said.
Going into Tuesday, the only players ahead of him in the NHL rookie goal-scoring race were highly-touted prospects Tomas Hertl (San Jose Sharks) and Sean Monahan (Calgary Flames). Chiasson is fourth in points, tied for the most shots, and leads all first-year players in game-winning goals.
Everyone keeps expecting Chiasson to have a clattering encounter with regression to the mean, and while the sample is admittedly very small, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound forward’s goals-per-game clip in his short NHL career (0.61) sits just behind the leader among active players, a certain Alex Ovechkin.
This surely can’t continue, can it?
Well, he’s certainly not Ovechkin, who has kept up his pace for nine years, but the lanky 23-year-old native of Lorraine, Que., is averaging nearly a point per game this season (nine in 11 games).
In addition, his shooting percentage is 13.9 per cent, which is far more easily maintained than the 46.2 per cent he put up in a late-season cameo in 2012-13.
In any case, his play has won over Lindy Ruff, as crusty a head coach as there is the NHL.
“Oh, I love this kid,” he said. “He’ll do anything to score goals, he’s a very competitive young man; he’s quite a big part of our penalty killing at the other side of it, which tells you a lot about how a coach is going to use him.”
In particular, Ruff said, Chiasson has the ability to use his big frame to avoid being outmuscled in the crease and the skills to manoeuvre in tight. “He’s just got that gift for wanting to score goals. He’ll score ’em on his knees, he’ll score ’em facing the other way, he’s as good as anybody on our team for tipping pucks, he’s just got a knack around the net.”
The former second-round pick (38th overall in 2009) appears to have figured out a way to tame the NHL game.
“My success has come in front of the net, along the boards. I don’t make it too complicated, I just have to use my size and play a north-south game,” he said before the Stars’ tilt against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Tuesday.
Chiasson grew up a Canadiens fan – his family moved to suburban Quebec City when he was 7 – and had to scramble for 52 tickets to accommodate the friends and relatives.
He admitted to not getting much sleep after the team flight arrived from Buffalo late Monday (were it not for a brilliant Ryan Miller save, he would have scored his sixth goal of the season), but said the prospect of playing his childhood heroes was harder on his immediate family.
“I think my dad’s a lot more emotional than I am. I had breakfast with him and I think he’s a lot more nervous,” he said with a laugh.
What’s remarkable about Chiasson’s scoring run is he’s never really been known as a sniper; his best season at any level was at a prep school in upstate New York when he was 17 (35 goals in 45 games).
In the United States Hockey League, he scored 17 goals in 56 games (although he was named to an all-star team). At Boston University, his most productive season was 15 goals in 38 games. Nor did he set the world on fire in the minors (14 goals in 66 regular season games).
But in his first seven NHL games, he scored six.
“[Going to college] was the right decision for me. Every player is different, but I needed to develop physically and spend some time in the gym,” Chiasson said.
It’s surely inevitable he will have his day of reckoning with the principles of statistics, but for now, he’s taking everything that comes his way.
If that includes a top-six spot on a team that includes prodigious young talents like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, all the better.
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