You all knew this is how the series would end. Thomas Chabot is the king of the proverbial castle, and there was no way he was going to be dethroned in this year’s edition of our Top 25 Under 25 rankings. Chabot was the Sens’ lone All-Star last year, and at age 22 he’s already firmly established himself as a top pairing defender in the NHL. He was the consensus best player at the World Junior Championships in 2017 and won the tournament MVP after playing a staggering 43:53 in a shoot-out loss to the USA in the gold medal game. He netted 45 points in 34 games in the QMJHL that year and after a very brief pit stop in the AHL the next year he was with the big club to stay. Since he was drafted 18th overall by the Sens in 2015, his trajectory has been nothing but up. It wouldn’t be correct to call him a prospect anymore; Thomas Chabot will have a long NHL career barring something terrible and unforeseen. But that doesn’t mean we quite know the answer to the question of what his true potential really is.
One thing everyone can agree upon is that Chabot is a talented play-maker and point scorer. He spent large stretches of last season leading the league in scoring by a defenseman, and he regularly made plays like this:
That overtime winner against the Nashville Predators highlights perhaps Chabot’s best trait: his skating. Chabot’s not as breathtakingly fast as someone like Alex Formenton, but his edge work is absolutely sensational and it underpins his ability to avoid forecheckers and scamper into open ice. If Chabot doesn’t always look he’s trying very hard, it’s because his skating technique is highly refined. He gets in a very low crouch and he’s not wasting any effort when he digs in and pushes back. Whenever Chabot has been on the ice, the Sens have generated a lot of offense at 5v5. The numbers back up the eye test in this regard:
Graph courtesy of Micah McCurdy and his site, hockeyviz.com.
Chabot’s also an effective power play quarterback, where he utilizes his fluid skating to walk the blue line and escape would-be defenders at the point. He’s got aheavy enough slapshot that penalty killers can’t leave him alone up top in case he slides into a open space to hit a one-timer, but they also can’t close out on him too quickly or else they risk him walking right by them.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say Chabot is a totally finished product offensively, but he’s as close to elite as you’ll find in a 22 year-old entering his third season in the league.
It’s on the defensive side of things that Chabot still has some work to do, and how much he improves in the next couple of seasons will likely determine whether he lands as a good first pairing defenseman or as the successor to Erik Karlsson and a perennial Norris-contender. To my eye he’s a sound one-on-one defender who uses his skating and positions his body well to shut down opposing rushes. He’s strong on the puck in the corners and he makes effective use of his puck skills to quickly transition from defense to offense; an underrated part of defensive play in today’s NHL. He does, however, tend to get lost when he’s away from the puck and the Sens still give up tonnes of shots when he’s on the ice. To some degree that’s a by-product of being on a bad team; everyone gives up lots of shots. Still, the numbers last season weren’t flattering:
In his brief NHL career, Chabot’s only played meaningful minutes with three other defensemen at 5v5: Dylan DeMelo, Cody Ceci, and Erik Karlsson. Unsurprisingly his numbers with Karlsson were very good, 52.33 CF% and a whooping +6.81% relCF%, but at least part of that is explained by the fact they almost only ever played together when the Sens were trailing and/or for offensive zone draws. Interestingly, Chabot’s results with DeMelo and Ceci were not all that different: he posted better CF% with Ceci, but a better xGF% with DeMelo. DeMelo is also the only partner Chabot’s had with whom the Sens have broken even in the goals for and against category. It is worth noting that Chabot posted robust relative numbers with both Ceci and DeMelo. Even if he can’t drag the Sens all the way to respectability when he’s on the ice, they’re a lot better with him on it than off. It seems likely Chabot will begin this year with Nikita Zaitsev, and yet again he’ll be asked to play a heavy load of minutes.
Which brings us back to where we started: Chabot’s offensive excellence has carried him to the peak of our Top 25 Under 25 for three years in a row now. Unless the Sens net a top 3 pick this year, that seems like a lock to continue for a couple more years yet. He’s the brightest light in a Sens future that finally, finally, seems to be taking shape. If he’s going to take the next step, the step that only the truly elite take, now would be a good time to do it.