Big Ben touches down in Winnipeg

Jets’ Chiarot warrants stay in NHL after impressive stint

Winnipeg jets logoGraphic by Caroline Norman

It’s been a truly unforgettable last two months for Jet rookie defenceman Ben Chiarot. After skating in the Thrasher-Jet pipeline for the past four seasons, the native of Hamilton, Ontario recently landed a long-term position in the NHL, and has been turning heads ever since.

A fourth-round selection of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, he earned his first call-up to the Winnipeg Jets in October of 2013, and made his NHL debut in November of that year, a 5-1 Chicago win. Last month, various injuries to Mark Stuart, Tobias Enstrom, Jacob Trouba, and Zach Bogosian resulted in another call-up for Chiarot.

The 23-year-old notched four goals and five assists in 24 games this season for the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps prior to his Winnipeg call-up. Last season, Chiarot logged 20 points for the Calder Cup finalist IceCaps, adding a further five points in the team’s Cinderella story run in the post-season. Proof that his years in the AHL have been gradual yet imminent, Chiarot has now translated that development into the NHL.

Skating alongside Dustin Byfuglien for the majority of his shifts, Chiarot displays a physical shutdown style of game, combined with well-rounded use of his six-foot-three frame.

He’s also familiar with the offensive side of the game, displaying occasional flashes of simple yet effective puck-handling plays into the opposing blue line. His first NHL goal landed a 5-1 win vs. the Maple Leafs in early January, earning second star honors.

Analogous to his partner Byfuglien, Chiarot built his reputation in the AHL as somewhat of an enforcer. However, with an upgrade to the big leagues comes great maturity, as Chiarot has expertly exemplified in taking only three minor penalties since his call-up to Winnipeg.

Part of the NHL’s most penalized team, the defenceman who killed off 93 penalty minutes last season with the IceCaps has come to realize the importance of playing physical and effective hockey while maintaining a high level of discipline. It is even more impressive considering Chiarot’s time with St. John’s, where he was very aggressive on the boards. His play has merited 20 games in the NHL this year.

Although, it may be slightly ludicrous to see Chiarot as a definite all-star amongst a who’s who of NHL defencemen, the OHL graduate’s prolific rise in the previous few months certainly puts him in consideration as one of the Jets’ most prized young assets.

As the Jets’ blue line restores of full health, Chiarot’s two-month spell with Winnipeg certainly warrants a long-term future in the NHL, if not a permanent stay with the Jets for the remainder of the season.

His offensive upside could even take the places of Tobias Enstrom, Mark Stuart, or Jason Garrison within the near future, should Kevin Cheveldayoff view Chiarot’s potential as overriding the shortcomings of their veteran defencemen.

Though Chiarot has entered the NHL at a bit of a later age, it is without a doubt that the once-waived Jet is making up for lost time.

Whether his spell in Winnipeg is permanent or temporary is a story yet to be told, but with his presence ticking and tolling on the Jets’ blue line, you wouldn’t bet against big Ben any time soon.