Thomas Chabot: Ottawa’s French-Canadian Erik Karlsson?

Nobody likes to get cut from a team and for top NHL prospects, getting sent home from training camp is probably the first time in many years, if not their life, that they have been cut. However, despite being sent back to his QJMHL team The Saint John Sea Dogs, Thomas Chabot had a reason to smile. Before heading back to Saint John, Chabot signed a three-year entry-level contract (ELC) with the Senators.  Given that it guarantees him $975 000 a year in the NHL at $70 000 in the AHL, his ELC is a pretty good consolation prize for not making the 2015-2016 edition of the Senators.

While Chabot will probably not be playing in the NHL for another two years at least, he is one of the most exciting defense prospects in the Ottawa system and should become a mainstay on the Ottawa blue line for many years to come.

Who Is Thomas Chabot?

Born in Ste. Marie-de-Beauce, PQ in 1997, Chabot will only turn 19 in January, making him the youngest defenseman under contract with the Senators for the coming season. After playing Midget AAA for a season with Levis, he made the jump to the Saint John Seas Dogs as a 16-year-old. After a particularly impressive 2014-2015 season in the QJMHL, Ottawa drafted him 18th overall this past summer at the 2015 Draft. He also played for Canada at the 2015 U-18 World Championships, were he tied for the tournament lead in scoring by a defenseman and won a bronze medal. He has also been invited to Team Canada’s World Junior August evaluation camp and a strong start for Saint John should ensure Chabot a place on Canada’s World Junior roster this Christmas.

While not standing out during the July development camp and the September rookie tournament, Chabot was particularly impressive during the Senator’s main Training Camp. He played exceptionally well in the camp inter-squad games and performed well in the three pre-season games he featured in, even playing with Erik Karlsson on the top pairing for a game against Toronto. Some fans even thought that he outplayed former first round pick and current whipping boy Jared Cowen.

Whether he outplayed Cowen is irrelevant to Chabot’s career prospects, as he was always going back to Saint John. But in going back with a ELC in hand, Bryan Murray and company have demonstrated that Chabot is a key part of Ottawa’s future.

What The Scouts Say

Going into the 2015 draft, Chabot was ranked anywhere between 15th and 25th in different draft rankings.  Overall, most scouts emphasized his strong skating, high top-end speed and excellent puck skills, as well as his overall athleticism. However, he is not only an offensive threat but is also strong in his own end, particularly on zone exits and played on the second unit penalty kill for Saint John this past year. While Chabot is not noted for his physical play and currently only weights in at 185 lbs, given that he is not yet 19, his 6’1” frame will certainly fill out and allow him to handle the physical demands of playing in the NHL. He is uniformly predicted to become a top four defensemen in the NHL and has the raw potential and the work ethic to possibly mature into a true number one d-man. 

However, despite his excellent puck skills, Chabot’s offensive threat is limited by an average shot. Despite putting up strong offensive numbers last season for the Sea Dogs (41 points in 61 games), Chabot only scored 13 goals in two full seasons in the QJMHL. If he is to become a top-pairing defenseman and log first unit power play time, Chabot will have to work on his shot in order to become an effective and consistent offensive threat.

Player Comparisons

Within the Senators’ organization Chabot is by far the most exciting prospect on defense. The only other young player on defense for Ottawa with a similar offensive upside and excellent skating ability is Cody Ceci, but he has already graduated from the prospect pool. While Ben Harpur and Fredrik Claesson are defensively reliable, they lack the puck skills to make them a threat offensively. While Mikael Wikstrand has shown flashes of his two-way ability, he has yet to play in North America and the fact that Ottawa recently suspended him indefinitely does not bode well for his future. In terms of defensemen with true top pairing potential, Chabot is it for Ottawa.

More broadly, the best NHL comparison for Chabot, if he reaches his full potential, is Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues. While other writers, in the lead up to the 2015 draft, compared him to Keith Yandle, the Pietrangelo comparison is particularly apt as both Chabot and Pietrangelo are strong two-way players who can play on the penalty kill, unlike Yandle. As well, while Yandle demonstrated tremendous goal scoring potential in junior, both Chabot and Pietrangelo have largely been set-up men on the power play, not finishers. Regardless of which comparison is more accurate, if Chabot matures into a player similar to either of the two NHL stars mentioned above, Ottawa will be thrilled.

On the lower end Chabot projects to be a solid, second pairing defenseman in the mould of Andrej Sekera. Sekera is a solid, puck moving defenseman with excellent skating ability who functions well as a set-up man on the power play. However, his lack of offensive flair and a hard shot limits his output. Additionally, if Chabot doesn’t fill out his frame, he, like Sekera will get out muscled by strong forwards in puck battles along the boards. While Sekera is a valuable, minute-munching defenseman (ask Edmonton) he can’t shouldn’t be on a team’s top pairing. Rather, he functions best as an effective second pairing, second unit power play player.

While the Senators would much prefer to see Chabot mature into a top defender in the league, having a reliable top four defenseman will suit Ottawa’s needs going forward. Karlsson still has at least five to seven more years as a Norris Trophy caliber player while Ceci and Wiercioche are both relatively young and have demonstrated that they are at least top four defensemen. Adding Chabot and one of Harpur, Wikstrand or Chris Wideman into that mix, plus an aging Mark Methot, gives Ottawa an above average defense corps moving forward. And besides, there still is a possibility that Chabot scores 70 plus points in a season after working on his shot. A French Canadian Erik Karlsson? Unlikely, but not impossible.