The Dallas Stars’ trip to Boston to play the Bruins Tuesday night featured a homecoming that was hotly anticipated in the Boston area: rookie forward Alex Chiasson made his first return to Boston since leaving Boston University after his junior season in order to pursue a pro career.
Okay, so maybe that homecoming was not the one that had the media and fans buzzing for the past few days, but it was a milestone moment in an emotional week for Chiasson as he starts to settle in to his NHL career.
And what a career it’s been so far. Chiasson spent most of the 2012-13 season in the AHL, but he was called up to the Stars for seven games at the end of the season. Chiasson impressed quickly; he became the first player in franchise history to record six goals in his first six NHL games, and his nine goals in his first 10 NHL games marked the first time an NHL player accomplished that feat since Teemu Selanne did it in the 1992-93 season.
He tallied 16 points in his first 16 NHL games before slowing down recently, recording just one point in his last six games.
But Chiasson continues to prove his worth in other aspects of the game. As the second line right wing, Chiasson is a valuable spark on offense. At 6-foot-4, he serves as a great screen and hangs around the crease more than a normal winger, but he also has the speed and creativity to create a play anywhere in the offensive zone. He backchecks well and plays on both the power play and the penalty kill. Combined with his scoring prowess, Chiasson is looking like an early contender for the Calder Trophy.
“He’s just so easy to play with,” said left wing Cody Eakin, who plays with Chiasson on the second line. “Some guys just find their niche right away. Some guys it takes them a while. He just did what he did to get there and didn’t really change his game that much. Some guys change their game a lot when they come and try and think they have to do other things, but like I said, he plays the right way and it’s definitely paying off for him.”
Chiasson said he did most of his work refining his game in the AHL. His speed has clearly improved since his college days, something Chiasson highlighted as an area he worked the most on during his time with the Austin Stars.
The most difficult part of transitioning to NHL hockey, Chiasson said, has been the schedule.
“There’s no day off,” Chiasson said. “You can’t go out there and expect things to be easy. I haven’t scored in the last five or six games. It’s not that I’m not trying. Of course I want to score goals, but this is what it is. For the guys that score every other game or every game, it just shows how good they are.”
While Chiasson has slowed down on scoring milestones, he has started to appreciate some of the off-the-ice milestones. At the end of October, Chiasson returned home to Quebec to play in Montreal for the first time and had a cheering section of 60 family members and friends.
“Being from Quebec, it was really a dream come true,” Chiasson said. “I think from that moment I realized [I play in the NHL] a little bit more.”
The visit was long anticipated, as Chiasson left home as a teenager to attend high school in Lake Placid, N.Y., before playing a year of junior hockey with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL as preparation for his collegiate career.
Chiasson totaled 99 points in 108 games as a Terrier. He led BU in points in both his sophomore and junior seasons and served as an assistant captain for the Terriers in his senior season. Chiasson paid a visit to his old school after practicing at the Garden on Monday.
“After practice yesterday, I went to [BU’s Agganis Arena] and it was kind of emotional to go back there,” Chiasson said. “Time flies by. You don’t realize all the memories. I saw all of the freshman; they look so young. But that was me a couple of years ago, so you have to appreciate the time.
“That’s what I said to the guys there. I said, ‘Hey. These are the best years. [The NHL] is awesome but college is amazing.’ I had a great experience. I couldn’t have gone to a better school.”
Although Chiasson never had success at the TD Garden as a Terrier, his return to Boston as an NHL player got off to a great start thanks to the Stars’ 3-2 shootout win over the Bruins.
“It was a great win tonight,” Chiasson said. “We’ve never played like this so far this year. We pushed ourselves to play a north-south game up and down the ice, skate as much as we can. Short shifts. Everyone was involved in the play. For me, of course it was great.
“It’s always fun coming back to a place like this where I feel like I kind of belong here.”