Top 25 Under 25, #1: Thomas Chabot
The 24-year-old stays in the top spot for the 5th year in a row
1. Thomas Chabot (Reader rank: 2, last year: 1)
For his last dance as an under 25-year-old, Thomas Chabot reigns supreme for the fifth year in a row. Chabot will turn 25 on January 30th, 2022, and the next version of this series will include a new leader. It’s been an impressive five-year run for Chabot as he has gone from prospect with one game under his belt to an $8M man who will most likely be the runner-up to the Ottawa Senators captaincy.
Chabot was 2nd in the NHL in TOI per game at 26:17, behind only Drew Doughty. He was actually 1st in 2019-20, but that was a lower number at 26:00. Time on ice obviously doesn’t equate to how good a player is, but it does show how much DJ Smith and the Senators rely on him at 5v5 and on the power play. He even had six games with over 30 minutes played, and two of them didn’t even go to overtime. Although being a workhorse is excellent and should not be taken for granted, I don’t think that is sustainable, nor do I think Ottawa gets the best version of Chabot when he plays that much.
In the long term, he definitely needs a partner that can keep up with him (a la Dylan DeMelo), plus if Jake Sanderson can take some of the burden on the 2nd pairing, that will be a godsend. It’s not as if Chabot has been bad while playing so much, but it hasn’t helped his game. Furthermore, better partners and teammates in general should make him look better as well.
He has averaged 54 points per season over the past three seasons, which is actually a surprisingly higher total than I expected, probably because the last two seasons have been less than 82 games. There are only 14 other defensemen to average that many points over the past three seasons, so he is clearly in elite company in that regard.
Overall, Chabot has been able to provide plenty of value. You won’t mistake him for a strong defensive defenseman, but it doesn’t matter because he’s able to make up for it with his offense:
So his overall Wins Above Replacement is in the 85th percentile, but as you can see, his even-strength defensive impact is incredibly low. We can live with that though, especially with everything else so high. In fact, his chart reminds me a lot of Erik Karlsson circa 2016:
I’m not saying Chabot is as good as Karlsson or that he ever will be, but Chabot can easily thrive despite not being good at limiting chances against. The Senators previously learned to partner Karlsson with a defensive stalwart in Marc Methot, and the current version of the team needs to find a right-handed version of that. Could it be Artem Zub? Jacob Bernard-Docker? It’s too early to tell, but they might need to look elsewhere if they want Chabot to be even better.
I despise +/- as a statistic, but it’s still cited very often and it is somewhat interesting that Chabot is a career -59 player while always being at least -12 or worse every season. Again, that will improve with better teammates, but those numbers haven’t helped his public perception that he is a defensive liability. The funny thing is, I showed that the results do indicate that, but his +/- is not the reason why.
Another thing about his public perception is that fans have slowly shifted from wanting him to be the next captain of the team to now wanting Brady Tkachuk. I’d still be completely happy with either one because the letter often gets overhyped, but Chabot has been overtaken by Tkachuk in terms of endearment from the fanbase. Chabot will always be the first player to commit to the team after their massive firesale, so there is still an abundance of well-deserved love towards him, but he seems to be the runner-up for likeability. The fact that he didn’t actually finish first in the reader rankings is just another example of that.
I don’t think Chabot will ever be a Norris trophy winner, although he is undoubtedly a number one defenseman that the Senators desperately need. He has been incredibly valuable for the team and he sometimes gets too much flak considering he’s been the only competent defenseman on the team for certain stretches. There are still seven seasons left of Chabot that will bring him to age 31, meaning we’ll be seeing his best hockey from now on, and I can’t wait to see what he can do on a playoff team in the future.
Here are some great highlights of Chabot from this past season: