TORONTO -- Defenseman Thomas Chabot has a legitimate opportunity to play for the Ottawa Senators this season, and he intends to make the most of it.
Chabot, a first-round pick (No. 18) in the 2015 NHL Draft, possesses a skill set not unlike Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, who is out indefinitely after having surgery to repair torn tendons in his left foot in June and has not started skating. It's up to Chabot to earn the trust of the Senators coaching staff in his own end.
"They know I can skate and I can do things with the puck, but I just want to show that I can play real well and solid in my own zone," Chabot said after he had two assists in an 8-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens at the 2017 Rookie Tournament at Ricoh Coliseum on Saturday. "That's what it is, that's what it's all about nowadays in the NHL. Everyone is just so good, you have to watch everyone, so to be a good defenseman in the NHL you have to be good in your own zone. That's what I'm focusing on going into main camp, but obviously my goal is to have a spot for the season with the Senators."
Karlsson, the Senators captain, is expected to miss the start of the regular season, leaving the door open for Chabot if he can impress in training camp.
"(His defensive game) is in place for sure, but it's going to be more about training camp and going out and playing well defensively against men every night against NHL players," said Kurt Kleinendorst, who coaches Belleville of the American Hockey League and is serving as coach of the Senators rookie team. "Now the next step is about professionalism, and professionalism is being able to come back and do it again right, so if he can do it night in and night out, that's the next leap."
As far as Chabot's ability to contribute offensively at the NHL level, Kleinendorst has no concerns.
"It's just a matter of how he does without the puck. We know how he is with the puck, that's a non-issue," Kleinendorst said. "It's about how he's going to handle NHLers without the puck."
Chabot spent the past four seasons with Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He had 45 points (10 goals, 35 assists) in 34 regular-season games and 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 18 playoff games last season. He played in one game with the Senators last season against the Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 18, 2016, and was minus-2 in 7:09 of ice time. He said that taste of the NHL early in the season served as a useful benchmark.
"It's a place that's way faster, but at the same time it's kind of easier because everyone is good out there, everyone can make passes and everyone can score," Chabot, 20, said. "As a defenseman, though, you have to watch everyone on the other team because everyone can score. It was a totally different game than at the junior level."
Chabot stood out against the Canadiens on Saturday, controlling the play and moving the puck effectively up the ice. His best moment came when he set up forward Filip Chlapik with a long pass through traffic in the slot for a one-timer that put the Senators ahead 6-1 at 7:11 of the third period.
"I feel fine about my game," Chabot said. "Obviously, it was my first actual game in a long time. I liked the way I played, I was solid in both ends of the ice. That's what I was focusing [on], playing solid defensively, and I had the chance to help the team score some goals. So, I liked my game."
If Saturday served as Chabot's first test on his road to earning a roster spot with the Senators, it appears he passed with flying colors.
"I thought he played the way we know he's capable of playing," Kleinendorst said. "It was a tough game for him because the ice really wasn't all that good, it was really sloppy, it was hard to get pucks to settle down and it was really heavy on the legs. If you think about his game, it's a skating game, it's a passing game and I don't think the ice suited him at all. But he worked through it and he was noticeable. He did some really nice things."