The injury to Andre Burakovsky will force some line shuffling from Barry Trotz and a new player to step into the top six. For now, it appears the 'next man up' will be Alex Chiasson.
Based on practice, Tom Wilson will remain with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, Jakub Vrana moves from the second line to the third and Chiasson steps onto the second line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Chiasson seems a curious choice considering he has managed only one point in his first eight games with the Capitals. Plus, he spent most of the summer unsure of whether he would even have an NHL job this season and was originally signed to the Caps on a professional tryout.
But Chiasson’s history and work ethic has caught Barry Trotz's eye.
“Last year I played with [Johnny Gaudreau] and [Sean Monahan] for good amount of time in Calgary,” Chiasson said Tuesday. “Different types of players, but there's a lot of similarities between those guys and these guys here.”
“He's played with some skill guys and I just think he works at his game and from that standpoint I think it's real important that you reward those guys who keep working on their game,” Trotz said of Chiasson after Monday’s practice.
Wait, what? The Caps are promoting a player to the Ovechkin and Kuznetsov line as a “reward?” They’re 4-4-1, can they afford to hand out spots in the top-six as rewards?
You can if that player understands and embraces the role he is expected to play on that line.
“I know what those guys like, they like a guy in front of the net for chances,” Chiasson said. “They do love the puck in the offensive zone as much as they can so I'm going to try my best to get those retrievals for them and be more than a one and done type offensive line.”
Chiasson won’t be expected to produce at the same rate as an Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. He won’t be expected to dazzle with amazing passes to set up beautiful goals or deke defensemen out of their skates. His job will be to get in front of the net, battle for pucks in the dirty areas and make sure the team keeps possession for as long as possible when his line is out on the ice. The more times he retrieves the puck, the more opportunities Ovechkin and Kuznetsov will have to score.
“First of all, net-front presence is a big thing and then second thing is retrievals,” Chiasson said. “There's an opportunity, I've got to be first on the puck for a rebound or things like that and get on the forecheck and get those pucks for those guys. That's what these guys want.”
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Obviously, Chiasson is not going to be the offensive focal point of that line, but he also knows he always needs to be ready for the puck when Kuznetsov is on the ice. He compared Kuznetsov’s vision to that of Erik Karlsson whom he played with for two seasons while with the Ottawa Senators.
“Karl was the type of guy that you had to be ready. You would think he didn’t see you, but he knew exactly where you were. There's only a few players like that in the league. I think Kuzy's one of them here. But definitely you've got to be aware of everything that's going on on the ice.”
“I wish I had that vision and the things that he does,” Chiasson added. “I don't think you've got to be scared with that, you've just got to go and enjoy it and make the best out of it.”
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