The Montreal Canadiens did not make a big splash this free agency, but they did add a piece to their roster who will be utilized this season. On July 4, the Canadiens signed former Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ben Chiarot to a three-year deal, with an AAV of $3.5 million. Chiarot is coming off a career year, and joins a defence core that has a mix of veteran and young, inexperienced talent. Given the type of player he is and the experience he has gained over four full seasons in the NHL, he will bring a lot to the table in Montreal.
Chiarot made his NHL debut with the Jets on Nov. 2, 2013, but was not a permanent member of the Jets’ roster until December of the following season. He slowly worked his way up the lineup to become one of head coach Paul Maurice’s go-to defencemen. Last season, Chiarot played a career-high, averaging 18:37 per game, passing his previous high of 17:01 that he set in his half season with the Jets in the 2014-15 season.
Chiarot has also shown that he works well with other top-tier defencemen. Last season, he spent the majority of his minutes on the second pairing alongside Dustin Byfuglien. According to Left Wing Lock, the duo played together 17% of the time, second to Josh Morrisey and Jacob Trouba who played together 23.9% of the time. Chiarot will fit into the Habs’ top-four perfectly. With Jeff Petry and Shea Weber both right-handed shots, the left side is open on the top pairing for him.
His competition for big minutes lies with Mike Reilly, Brett Kulak, and Victor Mete. Mete and Weber played together more than any other Canadiens pairing last season. Similar to Chiarot and Byfuglien, Mete and Weber played together 17.2% of the time. Head coach, Claude Julien will have to decide whether to keep the up-and-coming Mete with the older Weber, or throw in the more seasoned Chiarot to have a tougher top pair.
Whether Chiarot moves to the top pairing or plays with Petry on the second, there are plenty of reasons why he should be an everyday top-four defenceman in the NHL.
With 64 points in his career, Chiarot doesn’t seem to be an offensively gifted defenceman. However, he has shown glimpses of being capable of producing in the opposition’s zone. With his size, he has a booming and accurate shot from the point, like this goal from the 2017-18 season:
It was a bomb of a one-timer that Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard did not see, but definitely heard. When Chiarot gets his shot off, it can be dangerous. In 2016, during a Jets skills competition, his shot was clocked at 107 mph. Granted, he has not hit that mark since, but his shot averages 95+ mph. He is also efficient at getting the puck on net. Of his 231 shot attempts last season, 111 made it to the net, meaning that he is hitting the net, mostly from the blue line, just under 50% of the time.
Chiarot’s willingness to jump in on the rush is what makes him an underlying threat offensively. Similar to former teammate, and now Vancouver Canucks defenceman, Tyler Myers, Chiarot is not the fastest player on the ice but his awareness on where to go on the attack creates scoring chances. This was most notable on this game-winning goal against the Washington Capitals last season:
Physicality and Responsibility
At 6-foot-3 and just a hair under 220 lbs, Chiarot’s size cannot be overstated. For a defenceman, it is important to be big and tough when battling in the corners, and removing opponents from the front of the net. Not one to shy away from throwing his weight around, Chiarot had 171 hits last season, another career high for the former fourth-round pick. His physical play also comes with maturity, as he only sat for 62 penalty minutes, and has only amassed 192 PIM in his 305 regular season games played.
He also uses his size to get in the way of scoring chances. Chiarot sacrificed his body 139 times in 2018-19, thanks mostly to his time spent on the penalty kill, only Trouba had more blocked shots for the Jets last season. Chiarot played 135:42 shorthanded last season, most of the time with Myers on the right side. He will likely be tabbed by Julien to play even more minutes on the penalty kill when he throws on a Canadiens sweater.
Chiarot is going to be an important piece for the Canadiens this season. He joins a team that has not reached the playoffs since 2017. The Jets have made appearances in the two years since, giving Chiarot recent playoff experience. He is capable of playing 20 minutes a night, and will be looked upon to play big in front of goaltender Carey Price. That he wants to be a Canadien only shows how ready he is to step into Montreal’s spotlight, and he will show that he has the ability to do so.