Early last season former Saint John Sea Dogs coach Ross Yates wanted to get the message across to one of his top defencemen, Thomas Chabot, that his game wasn't where it needed to be for him or the team to be successful.
So when he filled out the lineup card for the Sea Dogs' home opener against the Halifax Mooseheads, he left Chabot's name out.
"You always run a chance when you do something like that," Yates said.
Yates was as curious as anyone how Chabot would take the slight. But the chance paid off, as Chabot took the benching as a challenge. By the end of the season it was clear Chabot met that challenge by developing into one of the top defencemen eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound left-shot defender had 12 goals and 41 points in 66 games. He's No. 16 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2015 NHL Draft.
"The thing that appeals to anybody when you look at a guy that's got decent size, he's an excellent skater, so smooth and fluid," NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr said. "He's got a game where right now you want to move the puck, advance the puck, carry the puck out of the zone. He's got a smart game with the puck. He can do the end-to-end rush, but he's a guy that can get the puck out of the zone, which everyone likes."
There's a lot to like now with Chabot. That wasn't the case early in the season. Chabot had been strong offensively as a rookie in 2013-14 with 22 points in 55 games, but he was a minus-29.
"He was pretty highly thought of but he lacked the defensive part of the game, which pretty much most 16-year-old defencemen coming into our league do," Yates said. "That was a point he had to get better at and he did last season."
But at the start of this season, some of the bad habits crept back in and Yates wanted to cut it off before it spread. So the decision was made to sit Chabot out for the home opener.
Yates said the plan all along was to have it be a one-game scratch, with Chabot going back into the lineup for the Sea Dogs' next game. However, he did admit to being curious how Chabot would take the news.
Chabot certainly wasn't happy but found a proper outlet for his anger.
"It was a clear message," Chabot said. "It was a wake-up call for me. I said it's never going to happen again."
After the benching Chabot started putting in extra time on and off the ice with former NHL defenceman Paul Boutilier, Saint John's director of defence development.
"We worked with a lot of video, talked a lot with him on what I have to get better in my game to have a good season," Chabot said. "We worked out in practice and I worked on things I need to get better. Maybe just play a little harder in my own zone … care about the offence when you have the puck, not before you have it."
Chabot also spent extra time in the weight room. Adding muscle and strength gave him the confidence to be more physical in the defensive zone.
"I always wanted to get a little more physical in my own zone," Chabot said. "Not kill a guy but finish my check a little more. That's what we were looking for. I figure that I needed a little bit more of that in my game and Paul agreed with me. I worked out to get stronger and maybe sometimes it's a confidence thing. As I'm getting stronger it's going to get more in my game. I worked a lot on it and I'm trying to use a little more my size."
With added strength and confidence came better play. Chabot lived up to his promise that he never would be scratched again for poor play, and by the end of the season Yates could use him in almost any situation in any part of the ice.
"You could really see the progression and the confidence," Yates said. "You could see in his own end he was way more confident in the defensive side. Part of it was a strength issue, reading the play. But he really got a lot better. He was killing penalties and playing against the opposition's best players toward the end of the year."
Chabot did enough that 26 teams interviewed him during the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine. Scouts remember he was benched in September, but it was his reaction to it that stood out most. Chabot said he had a few teams tell him they liked him enough to consider him with their first-round pick.
"I think what they did was they wanted to help him develop and learn by watching," Marr said. "And they gave him some specific instructions. They said in order for you to move forward, you have to take two steps back to move one step forward. … And it worked."
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor