For the Ottawa Senators, all eyes are currently on the NHL Draft. With the Sens not returning to play this season, it makes sense that most fans will get excited about the third and fifth overall picks they have. However, with high picks, you also need amazing players to surround them. Luckily for Ottawa, they already have that. On the blueline, they have 23-year-old Thomas Chabot, someone who already looks like a number one defenceman in the NHL.
Chabot’s vision, speed, and raw talent make him an amazing player in his own right. One of the best offensive defencemen in the game today, he is so close to being on that next tier of “elite” defencemen. However, to do that his defensive game needs work.
Thomas Chabot Can Take Leap With Defensive Work
What He Does Well
Let’s try to keep this part short-ish, as there are so many things we can point out that Thomas Chabot does well. He is an amazing player and honestly one of the most exciting ones in the league currently. He excels in driving offence for a Senators team that desperately lacks it. Chabot’s ability to look up ice and feed teammates, or simply rush it into the zone himself makes him such a threat at all times.
From Bryce Chevallier on Twitter, Chabot currently ranks third among defencemen for rushing the puck up ice. He is in company with some well-known puck movers in this grouping too.
Here are the defenders that consistently jump up and take charge to lead the attack. They usually have good skating and instead of moving the puck up to the forwards, they take charge and split the opponent’s defence themselves
Also, Josi is the first player to lead 2 categories pic.twitter.com/vYbOcZtR4p
— Bryce Chevallier (L’Architecte) (@FauxCentre) July 8, 2020
You don’t have to look too hard to find many examples of this coming through either. There are countless examples where he just walks straight through a defenceman like it’s nothing. His puck carrying ability his unmatched and is something for teams to watch out for at all times.
— Alex M (@nhlsensandstuff) February 19, 2019
— Alex M (@nhlsensandstuff) November 14, 2019
The Next Step
So, how exactly does Chabot take that next step forward to become an elite defenceman? One way to do it can and should be to become better in his own end. He does not need to become a Marc Methot type stay at home defenceman who never joins the rush. However, just getting more sound positionally in his own end and breaking up plays could go a very long way. So, let’s take a look at exactly what the issues are.
Starting by looking at what happens in his own end, we can see that Chabot, at times, gets flustered. The Senators, in general, were a horrible defensive team this past season which never helps, but if Chabot is to become among the elite he can’t get caught as often as he did at times this season.
— Alex M (@nhlsensandstuff) February 7, 2020
— Alex M (@nhlsensandstuff) October 24, 2019
In the two clips above we see two very different situations. The first was Chabot trying to cover for his partner Ron Hainsey and just overcommitting. Now, a natural defence to this would be “what is he supposed to with Hainsey as his partner?” That’s fine, but it also seemed to happen no matter who he played with.
The second clip shows a bad pass followed by a bad read to try and get the puck again. This doesn’t happen too often but it is absolutely the stuff you want to see out of his game. If he can just be a little stronger on his stick and take that extra second to think about where he is, that could truly go a long way. Being able to throw him out there up late in a game and have full confidence is key going forward. Big moments you need your best players on the ice. Even if it’s not pretty, he just needs to get the job done.
Now, let’s take a look at the numbers to see if they match up with what the eye test shows us. From NaturalStatTrick, we can take a look at Chabot’s numbers against and compare them to what his teammates had. For starter’s, we can look at shot attempts against per 60 minutes. This helps eliminate the fact that some players play more or less. In this category, he sits at 58.79CA/60. This is the third-best on the team but ranks 149th out of 197 eligible defensemen in the league. When we look at expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60), he also sits at third-best on the team with 2.36xGA/60. This ranks him 118th league-wide.
Both of these statistics can help show that Chabot both needs some work, but it’s not all his fault. You would still like to see him lead his team in defensive numbers, or at least be close. Third isn’t bad either, but the guys who are on that elite line are usually first and at very worst second. However, what we can also tell from this is that Ottawa as a team does not help him much. Nikita Zaitsev gives up the most CA/60 in the entire league. The Ottawa Senators as a team also gave up the fifth most CA/60. Chabot becoming better in his own end certainly won’t make the team as a whole elite, however, if you have someone on the ice you can trust with that it can make all the difference.
A player that Thomas Chabot could want to look like in terms of his overall game is Boston Bruins defenceman, Charlie McAvoy. In Boston, McAvoy has silently become one of the best defenders in the entire league at just 22-years-old. His game in all areas of the ice is beyond solid. We can take a look at EvolvingHockey’s RAPM Charts to see how the two players stack up.
Chabot is stronger than McAvoy when it comes to creating offence. You can see this by just looking at raw point totals, however, the advanced numbers say the same thing too. His CF/60 and xGF/60 are both stronger, despite being on a weaker team. However, where McAvoy outshines Chabot is in his own end. This isn’t particularly close either. McAvoy’s xGA/60 and xCA/60 are both miles ahead of Chabot.
He doesn’t need to swing that aggressively in the defensive side of things, but if he can even become average or even better, slightly above average, he can really close the gap. This season, Chabot did see improvements in his own end. When you look at his numbers they are closer to average but still slightly below. Getting that above an average defender would be amazing when combining his offensive talents.
Thomas Chabot and the Future
At the end of the day, absolutely no one will complain if Thomas Chabot never finds his defensive game. Some guys are just meant to be offensive powerhouses that you can’t stop. However, if he can up it even a little Chabot really has the potential to become one of the league’s best defencemen. He is already good enough that 30 other teams would gladly take him, but if he can take that extra step Ottawa could look very dangerous very soon.
Who knows what they’ll do in this year’s draft, but if they add some elite forward talent to help Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson and crew going forward, they could use Chabot on the backend. Ottawa has a decent blueline going forward too, but that stud number one you can confidently put out in any situation is so important for the NHL.