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Has Thomas Chabot Played his way Onto Canada's Olympic Team?

The Senators' star defenseman has likely leapfrogged some of his competition for a spot at left defense, though it's no guarantee NHLers still play in the 2022 Beijing Games.
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Thomas Chabot, anchoring Canada’s blueline at the 2022 Olympics? The idea seemed far off to him before the 2021-22 season began. When he showed up that the NHL Player Media Tour, he acknowledged Beijing was in his mind but felt the only thing he could control was how he played for the Ottawa Senators in the first couple months of the season.

Now, thanks to the Omicron variant of COVID-19 jeopardizing pretty much everything in sports, the Olympics probably still feel out of Chabot’s control. But everything about his play on the ice suggests he’s made the necessary steps to become a must-consider player for Canada GM Doug Armstrong when he finalizes what could be a fantasy-only roster in January.

Even before this season, Chabot, 24, had plenty of characteristics making him valuable to a Canada squad with fairly open competition on the left side of its blueline. He’d emerged along with Brady Tkachuk as one of the Senators’ two primary leaders and embraced that role on the league’s second-youngest team. Chabot had established himself as one of the NHL’s better pure puck-moving defensemen, too, sitting 13th in points and 14th in points per game among all NHL blueliners over the three seasons prior to 2021-22. And, of course, he was entrenched as the planet's busiest ice-time workhorse. Everyone knows Chabot can play seemingly forever. It traces back to his major-junior days, which included becoming the first and only D-man to win the MVP at the World Junior Championship. At the 2017 WJC, he famously logged more than 43 minutes in the gold-medal game. Now, as an NHLer, he’s just as busy playing on such a young team, seeing his average TOI jump in his past four seasons from 24:17 to 26:00 to 26:17 to 27:01. Since the start of 2019-20, he averages 19 seconds more than any other NHL player. Chabot has taken the torch from Ryan Suter as hockey’s ice-time king.

“I like playing a lot,” Chabot said. “Maybe on an 82-game season, playing 35 minutes a night is not the best thing for your body, and I’m not superhuman, either, and I get tired at times as well. But it’s fine. I’ve always said I’ve been lucky enough that, wherever I’ve been, with (Senators coach D.J. Smith) or another coach, he trusts me a lot, he puts me on the ice, and I try to just help the team have success.”

Top-end skater who can move the puck to Canada’s elite forwards? Check. Can play forever on the international ice surface? Check. We knew that about Chabot before this season, however. What will decide whether he slips inside Canada’s roster bubble might ultimately be his defensive play or, more accurately, his overall two-way impact. The Senators hold a plus-11 goal differential with Chabot on the ice at 5-on-5 this season but, similarly to Erik Karlsson before him in Ottawa, Chabot’s "defensive" impact is more about the fact he pushes the puck toward the other team’s zone than it is about his ability to thwart opposing chances. Per @JFreshHockey, Chabot has been an “elite” offensive defenseman this season while grading out poorly on defense – keeping in mind he constantly faces elite competition.

But Chabot isn’t the type of player to ignore defense. He’s determined to get better and worked a lot in the off-season on improving his ability to win puck battles and clear the front of Ottawa's net.

“When you play big minutes and you play against the top players, it gets pretty hard at times, but this is what I want to do,” Chabot said. “I want to play big minutes. I want to be a big player on (the Senators). So we’ve been working with a lot of video and doing a lot of extra little work to see what we can help and add to my game.”

Canada won’t be counting on him as a blunt shutdown instrument in any scenario, obviously. The key is for Chabot to deliver a net-positive effect, and his play driving has been so strong that he likely would augment Canada. In the summer, he arguably sat outside of a left-defense pool including Shea Theodore, Josh Morrissey, Morgan Rielly, Darnell Nurse, Adam Pelech, and Jakob Chychrun. Now Chabot and, almost certainly, Colorado’s Devon Toews are leapfrogging few of those names.

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