OTTAWA — Thomas Chabot understands that he needs to be patient.
Drafted 18th overall by Ottawa in 2015, Chabot is coming off a spectacular junior season and expectations are sky-high for the 20-year-old defenceman. But he knows he needs to keep a realistic perspective as he aims to crack the Senators’ lineup.
“It’s important to take things day-by-day right now,” Chabot said. “My goal is to be here this year, but I don’t go to bed every night saying I’ll be in Ottawa this season. I come to the arena with the mindset that I want to get better every day and I think that by taking things step-by-step that it will ultimately help me reach my goal.”
Chabot appeared in just one NHL regular-season game in 2016-17, playing just over seven minutes and registering a minus-2 defensive rating, but the Senators kept him around until Nov. 2. At the time many questioned the Senators reasoning for keeping him rather than returning him to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Saint John Sea Dogs, where he would see plenty of ice time.
Having the youngster spend time in an NHL environment proved to be the best experience for Chabot. The lost playing time had little impact on Chabot, who finished the season with 10 goals and 35 assists in 34 regular season games and was named the Canadian Hockey League’s defenceman of the year.
He went on to play for Canada at the world junior hockey championship where he scored four goals and six assists in seven games and was named the most valuable player of the tournament. He capped off his junior career with a QMJHL championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup.
Now Chabot comes into camp with added confidence and a better understanding of what it takes to succeed at this level.
“Being here last year helped me understand that at this level the game is a job and you need to be prepared to work hard every single day,” said Chabot. “You need to be present mentally and physically every day. I just need to prove I belong here and that I can play against older and bigger players and I’m ready for that.”
With captain Erik Karlsson expected to miss the start of the regular season as he recovers from foot surgery, Chabot has the perfect opportunity to prove he belongs in the NHL.
In all likelihood Chabot will be part of the Senators’ opening night roster. He made a significant impression at the rookie camp and didn’t look out of place playing alongside Dion Phaneuf in Monday’s pre-season win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I think he’s an incredible talent,” said Phaneuf. “I’ve really enjoyed seeing the progression from last year to this year. I think he’s really grown in the way he carries himself on and off the ice. He’s a big part of the organization and so you want to help him be successful.”
The biggest challenge for Chabot will be to prove to Senators head coach Guy Boucher that he can make the right decisions under pressure. Boucher appreciates Chabot’s skill set but needs to know he can play in a “man’s league.”
“The young guys have skill, they have all the individual tools, but the NHL is about managing the game, managing the small details,” said Boucher. “He needs to learn that fast because we need to win.”
Once Karlsson, Chabot he will need to convince Boucher that he’s better than one of the older veterans.
In addition to Karlsson and Phaneuf, the Senators returning defencemen include Cody Ceci, Mark Borowiecki, Chris Wideman, Fredrik Claesson and Ben Harpur, who played down the stretch last season. Veteran Johnny Oduya was signed as a free agent and has already impressed Boucher, making Chabot’s job that much more difficult.
“To be honest with you, he has to beat somebody now,” Boucher said. “We’ve got our number of NHL defencemen already so now he has to be better than another guy that might have been playing in the NHL for a few years right now.
“His potential is tremendous and we’re all aware of that, but I think right now, today, what’s best for him, and best for the team, we’re only going to know that once all the game’s are done and how well he’s adapted and what he looks like.”