For the past nine seasons, Erik Karlsson has led the Ottawa Senators’ blue line, putting up 518 points from the back end in 627 games. On Sept. 13, the team traded its best player to the San Jose Sharks, marking not just the end of an era, but the beginning of one. The Thomas Chabot era in Ottawa has begun.
Chabot has started the season leading the team in points, with two goals and six assists, including a game-winning goal against the league-leading Toronto Maple Leafs. Chabot is also a plus-1 through the first five games on a team that has let in the third most goals in the NHL.
Chabot’s Skill Has Been on Full Display
While the Senators’ defenseman has been racking up points, he has looked good doing it. His best play went viral, an undressing of Maple Leafs’ rookie defender Igor Ozhiganov, shown below. The highlight has quickly become the most watched in franchise history. His game against Toronto was his best yet, recording three points in the win.
The play of the 2015 18th overall pick has not gone unnoticed by the head coach, Guy Boucher.
“The ceiling is high, real high,” said Boucher. “Defensively I think he’ll become just as good over time. He’s got the mobility and a terrific stick and it’s just experience now. I have so much faith in his abilities.”
The Sainte-Marie, Quebec native has been given every chance to showcase his offensive skill, being partnered with newly-acquired defender Dylan Demelo on the top pairing. Boucher noted that DeMelo provides a “calming presence” on the back end, allowing Chabot the freedom and security to take chances in the offensive end. DeMelo has been very impressive as well so far this season; he’s currently a plus-5 on the defensively-challenged Senators.
Chabot’s play has been rewarded with more ice time. The 21-year-old currently leads the team in minutes, averaging 21:35 a night. With these minutes, Chabot’s numbers should continue to climb as the season progresses. It looks like the player is enjoying the start of a solid breakout year, as was expected.
Don’t Compare Chabot to Karlsson Just Yet
While Chabot’s start in his first full season is impressive, it’s still too early to compare him next to Karlsson. For both Boucher and Chabot, the plan is to continue to develop and improve the defender’s game.
Even Chabot himself is trying to distance himself from the pressure of filling Karlsson’s skates and leading this team.
“It’s still pretty much my first full year from the start,” he said. “Every night I take advantage of my role and the ice time I have. I don’t necessarily feel more pressure, I just want to help the team win.”
Chabot believes he’s grown as a player but knows there’s work to be done.
“I think I’ve come a long way. When I look back on last year or even two years ago, I was kind of trying to go out there and not make any mistakes, which I’m still thinking in my head. But I’m just trying to get some plays going, trying to create some scoring chances and get some goals.”
Last season, when Chabot started the season with the AHL’s Belleville Senators, Boucher was quoted saying, “Do we give steak to a baby?” Now, the team’s coach believes that the defender has come a long way.
“People look at his offence and go ‘Wow,’ but we’re also looking at the other side. There’s a lot more maturity in his game [than last season].”
From Zdeno Chara to Karlsson and now to Chabot, the Senators have had a series number-one defensemen that any team would envy. Chabot is only in his second season but has been thrust into the role. His ceiling is a long way off and Ottawa fans will have the pleasure to watch him grow as a player. Expect more highlight-reel goals from the young defender as the season progresses.
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.