Development camp didn't go as planned for Thomas Chabot.
The 18th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft was criticized by Senators management for his "average" performance and lack of intensity during the week of training and competition amongst the organization's prospects in late June.
"I feel like it's a bump in the road to being a pro," admitted Chabot in a phone interview with Silver Seven. "Maybe I thought it was going to be a bit easier at the camp, so I took it way too easy."
But he's realized his mistake and is encouraged to get back on track. The next time he's in the nation's capital, he'll be given an opportunity to make the NHL squad.
"I went back home and started to get ready for camp," said Chabot. "It's motivated me a lot. I'm working harder in the gym, I'm skating harder, trying to get my intensity levels higher, so I can come back in September and prove them wrong."
Back in his hometown of Sainte-Marie, Quebec, Chabot is only a 30-minute drive from the University of Quebec where he is training this offseason. The focus is on getting stronger and gaining weight - something the Senators nutrition staff and a special trainer from Montréal have assisted him with greatly.
While fitness and conditioning are a staple in a young hockey player's offseason, Chabot knows he must also address the one criticism of his game.
"I need to work on my level of play in front of the net... boxing out, finding pucks and covering my guy," Chabot notes. "Obviously guys are a lot stronger in the NHL than they are in junior."
"We're trying to teach him, here, how to pick his spots in his offensive game; when to go, when not to go," explained Saint John Sea Dogs head coach Danny Flynn. "We're also working on his play without the puck, especially with how that will translate to the next level. I've had a lot of defensemen go to the NHL and it's typical for young defensemen to come to junior hockey and have to learn the craft."
The start of the 2015-16 season wasn't particularly smooth for Chabot. He dealt with injuries early on after returning to the QMJHL several weeks after the year had begun and had to take time off again to play for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship.
"In my experience, when players come back from pro they try to do too much and try to justify the contract," said Flynn, a former assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres. "When he came back from the NHL, especially after being a first round pick and signing a contract... well, once he settled in and started to play his game, he had a real good second half and a strong playoffs for us."
Strong might be a bit of an understatement. After the WJC, Chabot played at over a point-per-game pace until the end of the playoffs. He finished the regular season tallying 45 points in 47 games and carted 21 points in 17 playoff games - second amongst defenders in the postseason.
Chabot really took over when the regular season ended. He stepped up in a big way when it mattered, and as Flynn explains, it was extremely important for him to accomplish that before taking a crack at the big league.
"There needs to be some valuable experience," Flynn outlined. "It was a tremendous experience for him to go to the World Juniors and it was a tremendous experience for him to lead our team in the playoffs. This organization, up until last year, had never won a playoff series in Thomas' tenure here. He gained valuable experience learning to be a leader and to perform when the rest of the team is looking at you on the bench when it's 2-2 and saying 'what are you going to do?'"
It's still very early, but Chabot's name is always thrown around when discussing the future of the team's first pairing. His combination of size, skill and speed would fit in well alongside Erik Karlsson down the road. And hey, they've already played together.
"It was only one preseason game, but it meant a lot to me," Chabot recalls. "I've been watching him on TV for a few years and he's one of, if not the, best defensemen in the league. To have the chance to play a game with him was special. I learned a lot... it makes a big difference when you get a chance to play with a great player like (him) for a guy like me that came from junior."
Chabot's play is actually also quite similar to that of Karlsson's. Yes, right now he's fairly large compared to the Swedish sensation at 19-years-old - 3 inches taller and 28 pounds heavier, to be exact - but they both seem to model their game the same way.
Take, for example, what Chabot likes about his own talents.
"In junior, I can control the game really well just with my skating abilities and hockey sense," he said. "I'm always the guy making the first pass in the D zone."
Control's the game with his skating and hockey sense, and is always the guy starting the attack from his own end; sound like someone you know?
Chabot walks the blue line with ease, jumps up in the play without hesitation and skates as well as any defenseman at the junior level. He's offensively gifted enough that he can quarterback a power play and big enough that he can kill penalties.
In Flynn's opinion, he suits the new NHL perfectly.
"The game has changed now where with defensemen it's less of a tough, hard-nosed style; it's more puck movers and guys who can join the rush," Flynn explained. "And his ability to get back and retrieve the puck and move the puck is going to be at a very high level. He's going to play in the NHL, no question."