Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - KEN WAR­REN kwar­ren@post­

In one breath, Belleville Sen­a­tors coach Kurt Kleinen­dorst la­bels Thomas Chabot as “a Michelan­gelo” for his of­fen­sive artistry.

A minute or so later, Kleinen­dorst de­scribes the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors’ 20-year-old de­fence prospect as a “left-shot Erik Karls­son” be­cause of his abil­ity to cre­ate plays that few oth­ers can. High praise, in­deed. At the same time, Chabot is learn­ing the hard lessons that raw tal­ent alone will only take him so far. Un­til he joins the NHL Sen­a­tors on a full-time ba­sis, he’s re­ceiv­ing a daily ed­u­ca­tion on the at­ten­tion to de­tail re­quired to sur­vive in the pro­fes­sional game.

“Ev­ery day, I work with the coaches,” Chabot said Tues­day in a tele­phone in­ter­view fol­low­ing prac­tice in Belleville. “As much as I can, I want to come to the rink want­ing to learn some­thing, big or small.”

Chabot has two goals and three as­sists in his first 10 Amer­i­can Hockey League games, but those num­bers only tell a bit of the story.

It’s no grand se­cret that the rea­son Chabot isn’t al­ready a reg­u­lar in Ot­tawa is be­cause of his play inside his own blue-line, a cen­tral theme for Kleinen­dorst and Belleville de­fence coach Paul Boutilier, who was also an as­sis­tant coach last sea­son with Chabot’s Que­bec Ma­jor Ju­nior Hockey League team in Saint John.

“The main fo­cus is on the de­fen­sive zone,” said Chabot, cho­sen 18th over­all by Ot­tawa in the 2015 NHL draft. “I look at a lot of video, I have a lot of talks with Kurt and Paul. Ev­ery hockey player wants to get bet­ter. I told my­self that, once I came down from Ot­tawa, I knew it wouldn’t be easy.”

The level of play in the AHL is of­ten un­der­es­ti­mated. The jump from ma­jor ju­nior or col­lege hockey to the AHL is far larger than the step from the AHL to the NHL.

Many top NHL play­ers had pit­stops in the AHL be­fore stick­ing in the big league. Karls­son spent a month with the Sen­a­tors’ for­mer AHL af­fil­i­ate in Bing­ham­ton in 2009-10, pri­mar­ily for the same rea­sons Chabot is now in Belleville.

“It’s not a mat­ter of if, but when,” Kleinen­dorst said of Chabot’s po­ten­tial pro­mo­tion. “It’s just about help­ing him man­age the game with­out the puck a lit­tle bit bet­ter. We’ve got to be care­ful. We’ve got to make sure he’s a re­li­able player and learn­ing the game more thor­oughly, but we don’t want to take away what he is of­fen­sively.

“Take out a stop­watch. Half the time, your team is gong to have the puck, half the time the other team is go­ing to have the puck.”

Chabot did re­ceive an earl­y­sea­son taste of the NHL, called up for three games when Karls­son, Johnny Oduya and Ben Harpur were all side­lined with in­juries, and he col­lected his two as­sists.

Since re­turn­ing to Belleville, he has dealt with a groin in­jury that kept him out of the new fran­chise’s home opener.

Away from the rink, he’s en­joy­ing “liv­ing as an adult” in Belleville af­ter years of be­ing bil­leted with a fam­ily as a ju­nior player.

While he sees oth­ers all around him be­ing called up to Ot­tawa — Harpur on de­fence, Chris DiDomenico, Max McCormick, Filip Ch­lapik, Jack Rode­wald and Nick Paul among the for­wards — Chabot says there’s no room for bit­ter­ness when he doesn’t get the call.

“You can’t get mad,” Chabot said. “If they’re get­ting called up, they de­serve it. Hope­fully, I get called up, but I’m not fo­cused on that. You al­ways want to be at the best level. The coaches here want you to get to the NHL. The coaches are putting in the time to get you there.”

Cen­tre Colin White, drafted 21st over­all in 2015, has also dis­cov­ered first-hand how big the jump is to the AHL.

White, who missed most of Sen­a­tors train­ing camp af­ter break­ing his left wrist while block­ing a shot in a pre-sea­son game, has one goal and two as­sists in six AHL games.

“I’m start­ing to feel more com­fort­able with ev­ery­thing, I’m start­ing to get the tim­ing,” White said in a phone in­ter­view. “You’re play­ing against older guys, against grown men, guys with fam­i­lies. The big thing here is the sys­tem of play­ing right, do­ing the proper things. Ev­ery game there are lit­tle things and big things to learn.

“There’s very lit­tle room for er­ror and I can’t do some of the things I had been do­ing.”

Af­ter White joined Belleville for the home opener, Kleinen­dorst said adrenalin helped carry the young for­ward through a cou­ple of games. His game then dropped off a notch be­fore climb­ing up again. All of it, ac­cord­ing to Kleinen­dorst, is nor­mal for a young player re­turn­ing from a sig­nif­i­cant in­jury.

White says his goal is to so­lid­ify him­self in the NHL be­fore the sea­son ends. Per­haps Chabot will be with him.

In what could be an op­ti­mistic sign for Sen­a­tors fans, White’s first goal, in a game on Nov. 8, was set up by Chabot.


Thomas Chabot, play­ing for Ot­tawa’s AHL farm team, the Belleville Sen­a­tors, has two goals and three as­sists in his first 10 Amer­i­can Hockey League games.

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