Through the first weekend of the NHL season, Ottawa Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot was a two-time social media sensation.
His first blush with fame came Saturday on the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast between the Senators and home Toronto Maple Leafs. On the game-winning goal, Chabot undressed rookie Toronto defenceman Igor Ozhiganov, slipping the puck through his skates before scoring on Frederik Andersen.
It was Chabot’s second goal of the game and was captured brilliantly on the Senators web site, as they inserted a recent facial expression from Ottawa rookie Brady Tkachuk to punctuate the highlight. According to the Senators content producer Craig Medaglia, the highlight has had 450,000 views, making it the most-watched in franchise history.
Game winner. pic.twitter.com/jYT11PZmcR
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) October 7, 2018
A day later, Chabot, 21, was the unintended star of a “Road Trippin’” video that also went viral. Speaking in his second language, the native of Sainte-Marie, Que., was perfectly deadpan in his delivery as a tour guide of a trip to Boston (The Senators faced the Bruins on Monday).
Among the highlights: "Bostonians have been known to consume seafood, while at other times they just eat regular land food."
And, "In Boston they’re just called cream donuts."
Again, it’s all in the delivery.
"I had no clue what we were talking about to be honest, I didn’t know some of the words, but it was pretty funny," says Chabot, trusting Medaglia with the script (though Chabot’s English is quite good). "I’m glad people enjoyed it."
Road Trippin’: Boston pic.twitter.com/2vzToCXQlZ
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) October 8, 2018
Needless to say, over his first three games of the season, off-days included, Chabot has it going on.
How quickly he has stepped up, necessarily, in the absence of superstar defenceman Erik Karlsson, traded away on the first day of training camp.
Physically stronger, the sophomore Chabot has contributed two goals and three assists, second only to the Leafs’ Morgan Rielly among NHL defencemen.
With an average ice time of 21:51 (26th overall for defencemen), Chabot is playing four minutes-plus per game more than he did last season, when he chipped in with nine goals and 16 assists in 63 games. On the Senators, only Cody Ceci has more ice time (22:37), as Karlsson’s former minutes are distributed.
Perhaps knowing more about Karlsson’s situation than Chabot did, Senators head coach Guy Boucher and associate coach Marc Crawford met with Chabot long before training camp.
"I had a few chats over the summer with Guy and Marc and they were telling me to get ready and expect a bigger role, which kind of helped me," Chabot says.
Chabot finished his rookie season carrying 188 pounds on a six-foot-two frame designed for a larger load. He showed up at camp weighing 196, the extra girth all muscle, and hopes to maintain 192 to 193 pounds through the season.
"My goal was to get a little bigger and a little stronger, but to be honest with you I did the same things I do every summer – work a lot on my skills, skating and details in my own zone," Chabot says.
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As a team, the Senators also carried extra weight into the season, most of it unwanted baggage from the off-season from hell. So, to be 1-1-1 off a 4-3 overtime loss in the home opener to Chicago, a thrilling 5-3 victory in Toronto over John Tavares and the Leafs, and then a 6-3 road loss in Boston is not the worst start.
As expected, Ottawa’s revamped defence has been under pressure, especially the so-called shutdown committee of Ceci, Mark Borowiecki and Dylan DeMelo. Minus a true shutdown pair, Boucher is rotating the defensive load.
Paired mostly with Chabot, DeMelo, 25, acquired from the San Jose Sharks in the Karlsson trade, is plus-7 and has three points.
Boucher likes the chemistry of DeMelo and Chabot, the former more apt to stay home while Chabot can roam with those fluid strides. If he isn’t already, it won’t be long before Chabot becomes the Senators’ best all-around defenceman.
Known for his offence as a point-per-game defenceman in the QMJHL with the Saint John Seadogs, Chabot was drafted 18th overall by the Senators in 2015. He led Canada to a silver medal at the 2017 world junior championships, winning the tournament MVP award as well as being named the best player in the final game, despite a shootout loss to the U.S.
Typical of offensive-minded defencemen, Chabot has had to go to school on the defensive aspect, including 13 games with the AHL Belleville Senators last season. Unlike many with such skill, he has the size and the will to play a stout defensive game.
"They’re called defencemen for a reason, right?" says veteran Senators forward Matt Duchene. "The first objective is to defend well and get the forwards the puck. For me, that’s what he does. He doesn’t try to do too much. He doesn’t lead the rush, he joins the rush.
"That’s key for a guy with that skill set, who could lead the rush if he wanted to, to know what is best for our team, our forwards."
Chabot is far removed from that famous Boucher quote when the kid first arrived in Ottawa: "Do we give steak to a baby?" Boucher said by way of reducing the hype.
Today, Boucher sees the potential for Chabot to become a top all-around D-man in the league.
"People look at his offence and go ‘Wow,’ but we’re also looking at the other side," Boucher says. "There’s a lot more maturity in his game."
For his part, Chabot, the chill tour guide, is enjoying the extra ice time, the first unit power-play duty, the added responsibility.
"I think I’ve come a long way," he says. "When I look back on last year or even two years ago, I was kind of trying to go out there and not make any mistakes, which I’m still thinking in my head.
"But I’m just trying to get some plays going, trying to create some scoring chances and get some goals."
He already has one goal that will be on highlight videos for years to come.