The way two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson sees it, Thomas Chabot has all the makings of being a future National Hockey League star himself.
The Ottawa Senators captain goes so far as to say the 20-year-old Chabot is more accomplished than Karlsson was at that age.
“He is from (Canada), he is more accustomed to the way things work than I was at the time,” Karlsson said Friday after the Senators hit the ice for the first time in training camp. “I still think he’s probably further ahead than I was when I got here, which is always a good sign.”
Just in case the Chabot hype meter wasn’t high enough already, Karlsson has cranked it up another notch.
Interestingly, Karlsson’s foot injury – he’s still weeks away taking his first skating strides post-surgery – has created an opening for Chabot to showcase himself.
Karlsson says Chabot has already proven he can deal with lofty expectations, dominating with Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and with Canada in the world junior championship.
“Whenever he’s going to be able to take that next step, whether it’s now or in a couple of months or in a year, I think that, however it plays out, he’s going to have every opportunity in the world to be a world-class player in this league,” Karlsson said.
“I think he made a lot of improvements and a lot of progress both personally on and off the ice from (last year). It’s just the experience part of things. He’s a lot more comfortable than he probably was last year.”
Chabot was named Canadian Hockey League defenceman of the year and most valuable player of the world championship.
Drafted 18th overall by the Senators in 2015, Chabot scored 10 goals and 35 assists in 34 regular-season games with Saint John last season. He added five goals and 18 assists in 18 playoff games. At the world juniors, he scored four goals and six assists in seven games.
“They were expecting him to be really good and he delivered that,” Karlsson continued. “And, even when he was playing really (well), they expected more and he did that, as well.
“Just being a year older, going through the pressure that goes with being a top prospect in Canada, that has helped him a lot and going to help along and speed things up and moving forward into his professional career.”
Senators fans will likely see Chabot on the ice in Monday’s pre-season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Canadian Tire Centre.
A few words of caution are necessary here.
Before anyone anoints Chabot as Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year, let’s also remember that Karlsson experienced his share of hiccups before rising to the top of the ladder among NHL defencemen.
Karlsson rode the bus in Binghamton for a month in his rookie season of 2009-10, playing a dozen American Hockey League games before becoming a Senators regular.
In his first full NHL season in 2010-11, he produced excellent offensive numbers — 13 goals and 32 assists — but was often a disaster defensively, finishing with a plus/minus of minus 30.
Chabot, who was paired with Ben Harpur during Friday’s practice and intrasquad game, is doing his best to block out what others are saying about him.
“Whenever I have the chance to play in the pre-season, I’m going to try and show them that I can play in this league,” Chabot said. “I’m trying not to read anything about me in the media and social media or anything like that. I’m coming in every day just trying to work as hard as I can and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”
That said, it might be just a tad difficult to ignore what Karlsson says about Chabot.
Chabot has offensive gifts galore, including a long skating stride that almost looks effortless, but he also recognizes he must earn the trust of head coach Guy Boucher by showing he can hold his own in the Senators’ zone. It was a point of emphasis throughout his final junior year.
In the early going of training camp, Boucher has also tested Chabot to see how the left-shooting defenceman handles playing on the right side of the ice.
“I’m played a few times on the right side during my career,” Chabot said. “Obviously, as a lefty, playing on the left side is better, but I don’t mind playing on the right side at all.”