Two things were pretty much assumed about Ottawa this season: the Senators would struggle in the standings, but defenseman Thomas Chabot would continue to rise as the most important player on the team.
Sure enough, through three games the Senators are still searching for their first win, but Chabot is top-five in NHL ice time, averaging about 26 minutes per game. Though he himself is only 22 years old, Chabot has already become invaluable for the rebuilding Senators and his 55-point outburst last season pointed toward a very bright future for the ex-QMJHL defenseman.
“I played against him in junior and was able to play a bit with him last year,” said Sens rookie Drake Batherson. “He’s so talented and skilled. Such an effortless skater and he makes things look easy out there.”
The future talent pool is bright in Ottawa, where Chabot becomes the spiritual successor to the departed Erik Karlsson. The Sens also have a great rusher in Erik Brannstrom, a big future point-shot in Lassi Thomson and a couple intriguing kids at NCAA North Dakota in Jacob Bernard-Docker and Jonny Tychonick, all of whom can learn from Chabot as they make their way to the big club (Brannstrom is already there, in fact).
With a forward youth corps led by the likes of Brady Tkachuk and Colin White, this year’s Sens will at least be fun to watch.
“It’s going to be different this year,” Chabot said. “All of us younger guys will have a way bigger role than maybe we would have expected this early in our careers, but at the end of the day it’s a big challenge for us and a chance to prove ourselves. It’s still just my third year in the league. I want to keep learning every year, keep getting better and help my team have some success.”
Chabot’s ability to eat minutes is a huge boon for Ottawa already and frankly, he’s always been that way. One of the most incredible world junior performances in recent memory was Chabot’s MVP tour-de-force in 2017, spotlighted by him playing almost 44 minutes in a shootout gold-medal loss to Team USA. Among that time was 11 minutes in the 20-minute overtime period.
Getting early looks with Ottawa before becoming a full-timer helped Chabot along the way and now he’s in the same groove he was when he was playing in the ‘Q’ for the Saint John Sea Dogs.
“It’s a harder schedule at 82 games,” Chabot said. “It’s a long year and you learn a lot about managing your energy. I’ve been there for a couple years, whether in junior or here and I’m excited and fortunate to play that many minutes. That means you have the confidence of the coaches, so that’s a good sign.”
While it’s not fair to tag Chabot as Karlsson’s replacement in Ottawa, it will be interesting to see what the Senators’ leadership group looks like in a couple years. Is Chabot captain material, or does someone else emerge? Either way, the smooth-skating defenseman is in the right mindset for Ottawa’s rebuilding phase right now.
“We’re going to face some highs and lows, for sure,” he said. “We’re a young team, we’re all on the same page, we all want to keep learning. Everyone expects us to be at the bottom again so there’s no pressure on anybody. But we know what we have in the room. We have some talent, we have some speed and we have to take advantage of that.”
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