Listed at 6’2” and 185 pounds, Ottawa Senators’ 2015 first-round selection Thomas Chabot isn’t small by any means. But he has learned quickly that when it comes to playing in the pros, size – and strength – matters. And it’s a lesson he is planning to take back to the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs this season.
But only after he has taken as much out of his inaugural pro experience as possible.
“It’s been really nice. I was really excited just to see the way the guys are playing the ice, especially against the older men,” he said. “There’s a little bit of difference, but the quickness of the play and the execution is pretty much the same as what I saw on the under-20 camp.”
Chabot, drafted 18th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, is getting his first taste of NHL action as part of the Toronto Maple Leafs-hosted rookie tournament in London, Ontario. And the defenseman has noticed a big step up in play in one particular area of the rink.
“The difference is in the corners. Playing against 25-year-olds is different than playing against 20-year-old guys in junior,” he said. “In the corner, the battles, the guys are bigger, stronger. The guys are 26 years old and they’re men. I’m still young and I’m growing.”
Chabot has stepped right in and, despite his offensive reputation, has shown early on that people shouldn’t sleep on his overall game. He said it is an area he’s worked on and is taking pride in.
“They know I’m a good skater with good hockey sense, so I’m just trying to show them that I can play a good game in the defensive zone,” Chabot said. “They gave me a lot of confidence [in game one]. They put me on the power play, they put me on the first shift in overtime, they put me on the PK, so I enjoyed that. I tried to show them I can play a pretty good game on both ends of the ice.”
Chabot is under no illusions that he will crack the NHL roster, but that doesn’t mean that he is resigned to going home as an early camp cut.
“I just want to take it day by day, but obviously I want to go to the main camp and see the level there. I want to see what it takes for me to play in the NHL one day,” he said. “For sure, I’d like to play one exhibition game in the NHL, but I’m just going to take it day by day and prove what I can do.”
He added that he doesn’t feel the pressure of being a first-round pick in this tournament. “No, not really. I know they drafted me for a reason and I’m just going to prove what I can do – just get better on the things I need to do better and I’ll show them the reason why they drafted me,” Chabot said.
While his focus is on the Senators currently, he admitted that he is excited about the prospects that another season in junior will have. He is returning to a strong Saint John Sea Dogs lineup, a squad that is ranked sixth in the initial CHL preseason rankings.
“I’m thinking about it for sure. We’ve got 10 guys going to NHL camps, so we’re looking forward to having a very good year in Saint John,” he said. “We’ve got very good coaches. Right now I’m focusing on this camp, but I’m going to start thinking about the guys who will be starting the season [Saturday], but right now I just want to prove myself here.”
Chabot said he has had some teammates that have helped ease the transition to the pro ranks in his early camp experience.
“Matt Puempel has helped me a lot. For sure, Vince Dunn. He’s a French guy so he came up to me first and he helped me a lot as it’s his third time here,” he said. “He’s talked to me about the level of play and when I ask him questions, he answers and he’s helped me a lot since development camp when he first came up to me.”
The London tournament puts Chabot head-to-head against some of his draft-class contemporaries, such as Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-rounder Mitchell Marner. And while he said he is not comparing himself with these players, he is well aware of who – and where – they are.
“I don’t measure myself, but when I’m on the ice, I know they’re good and I want to play even better against them. Like [William] Nylander and Marner were playing together tonight and when I was on the ice against them I was trying to play harder just to show that I can play against them,” Chabot said. “Marner was the fourth pick overall, so he’s a really good player. But I want to show them that I can play against really good players.”
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