Coming off a 12-goal season and just 26 years old, Alex Chiasson had a surprisingly quiet phone this summer. He was non-tendered by the Calgary Flames, making him an unrestricted free agent July 1, and while in years past there might’ve been more interest in a relatively young, experienced depth forward, Chiasson found himself in the company of veterans squeezed out by promising prospects.
When the contract offers didn’t come, he surveyed the league and settled for a professional tryout agreement with the Washington Capitals. He is hopeful he can beat out some of those youngsters in training camp for one of the available roster spots. The next three weeks could turn into contracts for him and defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka, also on a PTO, or they could be released and find themselves out of a job again.
“It’s frustrating as a player, but then you’ve got to turn the page, you’ve got to accept that that’s the way it is,” Chiasson said. “I’m still fairly young, and I know I can still play in this league for a number of years. Every day, I went to train like I was going to play in the league this year. I came into camp, and, physically and mentally, I feel good.”
Chiasson said he was “a little bit” surprised he didn’t receive a qualifying offer from Calgary after posting 12 goals and 12 assists in 81 games while averaging 13 minutes 23 seconds of ice time. His strength is in front of the net; he said he has scored “80 or 85 percent” of his goals from within 10 feet. After the Capitals parted ways with wingers Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson and Daniel Winnik, Chiasson could be a good fit for a team that will have at least two bottom-six openings.
His main competition in training camp will be prospects Nathan Walker, Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Riley Barber and Travis Boyd, and Chiasson figured he went all summer without a contract offer because teams are trusting young players like them more.
“As you can tell now in the league, some of the young guys are coming in, and they’re 19, 20 and 21, and they’re ready to play,” Chiasson said. “I’m not sure if that was the case five or 10 years ago. Now these young guys are coming in and they can play. They train well in the summer, and they can play the 82-game season, so that might be one of the reasons why. But at the same time for me, all I can focus on is my play and the way I trained this summer, and I feel pretty good on the ice. I’m excited for this opportunity and getting to know the guys a little bit.”
Said Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan: “That’s the reason for expansion. Vegas came in, and there will probably be another team in another couple years. There’s extra bodies around. There’s good players that are still out there.”
Like Chiasson, Jokipakka wasn’t qualified by the Ottawa Senators, and with two spots up for grabs on the Capitals’ blue line, he liked his chances coming to Washington’s training camp. While the 25-year-old has 150 NHL games under his belt, most of his competition at Kettler Capitals Iceplex has yet to debut at this level.
“I had a couple teams for a tryout, but this one felt good,” he said. “I see here there’s an opportunity, so I’m fighting for that spot.”
For the Capitals, they’re not committed to either player, but having Chiasson and Jokipakka in Washington for training camp is a sort of security blanket in case prospects aren’t ready to step into NHL roles. The veterans are also ratcheting up an already intense competition.
“We’re trying to create a competitive environment here,” MacLellan said. “I like Chiasson. Chaisson’s played well. Jokipakka’s had some periods where he’s played well, and we have a bunch of guys in Hershey [of the American Hockey League] that deserve a shot to play.”