OT­TAWA’S CHABOT PICKS UP WHERE KARLS­SON LEFT OFF

Se­na­tors de­fence­man rack­ing up points in ex­panded role, writes Joshua Clip­per­ton.

Calgary Herald - - SPORTS -

The Ot­tawa Se­na­tors felt they might have al­ready had a built-in re­place­ment after trad­ing away Erik Karls­son.

What al­most no one ex­pected was for Thomas Chabot to fill a big chunk of the void left by the team’s cap­tain and star de­fence­man this quickly.

The 21-year-old sat sec­ond in scor­ing among NHL blue-lin­ers head­ing into Wed­nes­day’s busy slate with 24 points, just two back of Toronto Maple Leafs coun­ter­part Mor­gan Rielly.

Ot­tawa’s drama-filled off-sea­son ended with the block­buster deal that sent Karls­son to the San Jose Sharks in Septem­ber one day be­fore the Se­na­tors were set to hit the ice at train­ing camp.

And while the two-time Nor­ris Tro­phy win­ner re­mained on Ot­tawa’s ros­ter all sum­mer, Chabot was prepar­ing for what seemed like the only rea­son­able con­clu­sion to the sit­u­a­tion, that be­ing Karls­son’s de­par­ture.

“I had a few talks with the coaches and they told me my role was go­ing to be big­ger,” Chabot said after a re­cent morn­ing skate at Cana­dian Tire Cen­tre. “I had that in my head when I was work­ing out.”

The 18th pick in the 2015 draft spent a chunk of last sea­son in the mi­nors, but ac­cu­mu­lated nine goals and 16 as­sists in 63 NHL games, often play­ing along­side Karls­son.

Just past the quar­ter mark of the 2018-19 sched­ule, Chabot has five goals and 19 as­sists while av­er­ag­ing 23 min­utes, 27 sec­onds of ice time, in­clud­ing a teamhigh 3:16 on the power play. In a sense, even though Karls­son — who scored his first goal with the Sharks on Satur­day after some early strug­gles — is gone, the Swede’s echo lingers in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal when­ever Chabot grabs the puck.

“Just to see him go out there and see the plays that he al­ways makes, just the vi­sion that he has out there, it’s spe­cial,” Chabot said of lin­ing up with Karls­son last sea­son. “To be around him and see how he works, how he plays, how good of a player he is, ob­vi­ously you learn a lot.

“For my­self, the kind of guy who is try­ing to play like him, it was great to see.”

The usual ex­pec­ta­tion is for de­fence­men to hit their stride at 24 or 25 years of age, but Se­na­tors head coach Guy Boucher said his spring and sum­mer con­ver­sa­tions with Chabot re­volved around the need to play a big role now.

“When you see some­body a cer­tain way, that’s how they’re go­ing to be,” Boucher said. “If you see some­body as a sixth de­fence­man, they’re go­ing to play like a sixth de­fence­man.

“His abil­i­ties haven’t changed. They were there two years ago. It’s the way he wants to play.”

Dy­lan DeMelo, who came over from San Jose in the Karls­son deal and has been paired with Chabot, said he’s been im­pressed with the Saint-Marie, Que., na­tive’s poise and will­ing­ness to learn.

“His of­fen­sive in­stincts are at a very high level al­ready,” DeMelo said. “I’ve been talk­ing to him a lot about be­ing ag­gres­sive, hav­ing good gaps and a good stick. He’s very re­cep­tive.”

Se­na­tors winger Mark Stone added: “He wants to be ‘the guy,’ which is what we need.”

Like most young blue-lin­ers with elite of­fen­sive in­stincts, Chabot is fo­cus­ing on im­prov­ing the de­fen­sive side of his game, some­thing Karls­son went through early in his ca­reer.

Head­ing into Wed­nes­day, re­build­ing Ot­tawa was tied with Tampa Bay for top spot in the league with 75 goals scored, but was also six goals ahead of Van­cou­ver for the most con­ceded at 88.

“A small mis­take at any time can end up in the back of your net,” said Chabot, who leads Se­na­tors de­fence­man with a lessthan-ideal 47.42 shot dif­fer­en­tial dur­ing five-on-five play. “The of­fen­sive part is al­ways go­ing to be in me, but we’re fo­cus­ing a lot on play­ing bet­ter in the de­fen­sive zone.”

While the team has been pleas­antly sur­prised by Chabot’s rise — Boucher said he played his three best games of the sea­son last week de­spite be­ing held off the score­sheet — the third-year pro didn’t ex­pect this level of early suc­cess.

“I’m just try­ing to soak it all in,” Chabot said. “It’s been go­ing pretty well.”

Colum­bus head coach John Tor­torella re­cently lamented the lack of hate among teams in to­day’s NHL. Roughly a month later, his club played the league’s first penalty-free game since March 2017 on Mon­day.

SEAN KIL­PATRICK/ THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

The evo­lu­tion of de­fence­man Thomas Chabot into an of­fen­sive threat for the Ot­tawa Se­na­tors has less­ened the im­pact of trad­ing away all-star de­fence­man Erik Karls­son.

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