As recently as a year ago, Thomas Chabot wasn't really on most teams' radar as a first round pick.
The 6'2, 179lb native of St-Marie-de-Beauce, Quebec is in his second season with the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs, and it's seen a complete turnaround from his first. The fleet-footed offensive D was viewed very much as a one-way defenceman, great in the opposition's zone but something of a problem in his own. While he was incredibly effective jumping into the play and creating chances for his forwards, there was always something of a nervous look about him when going the other way...he'd lose his man, get caught up ice and having to chase back, and as a result he ended up -22 on the season, which is...well, not good at all.
However, this year someone has clearly had a very strong word in the 18-year-old's ear for his draft eligible season.
While Chabot still has all the skills going forward, this year has seen him become far more effective in his own zone, to the point where he is the lynchpin of the Sea Dogs D along with partner (and fellow possiblemid-round gem) Jakub Zboril. While his defensive game has improved massively, his offensive game has continued to shine, as one can see by his stats:
Chabot led his team in scoring defensively this season, but also became far more effective both at playing the body and using his stick in his own zone, to truly show signs of becoming the type of two-way defenseman that is increasingly coveted in the modern NHL over the traditional model of offensive/defensive specialist.
The main thing Chabot already possesses is poise. Whether leading the breakout himself or firing the first pass to get his team moving forward, he's surefooted/surehanded and possesses truly excellent vision. Once his team is set up in the zone he's a weapon at the point - not necessarily due to the power of his shot, which is fairly average, but by its accuracy and consistency...he's very good indeed at firing the puck low and accurately towards the net for a screening forward to deflect-his shot is very effective even when fired off in a rush, and it's more than likely to force the goalie into a save if it gets through.
Weaknesses are mainly those you'd expect of an 18-year-old still growing into his 6'2 frame...sometimes he could stand to be more physical along the boards and in front of the net, and while his skating is smooth, quick and fluid, allowing him to cover large areas of the ice effectively, he can still be outmuscled by big forwards. His positional sense is excellent at junior level, and coaches describe him in time-honoured fashion as a "student of the game" who is ready, willing and able to learn and adapt at every opportunity.
Ranked around the middle of the first round by most scouting services, he's a player who will fall right into the wheelhouse of mid-range teams like the Bruins, and will likely be given a look by most as he has the potential to grow into the kind of big, calm, minute-munching top-four defenseman effective at both ends of the ice that every team covets very strongly indeed.
As with many defensive prospects even in the first round, Chabot is no Aaron Ekblad-style player...but then, very few indeed are. What he is is more of a long-term investment than an instant-impact superstar.he's only 18, after all, and is projected by most scouts to be two or three seasons of development and learning away from an NHL shift. He still needs to improve his positioning a little and learn to use his size and reach in the most effective way possible, as well as grow into his frame a little. Some have also argued that his shot needs to improve a little power-wise to become a true NHL-level weapon, but that will come with adding muscle.
However, he's a player that is definitely worthy of a long, hard look by all teams in the mid-ranges of the first round, if not slightly higher still...he'd be an ideal pickup for a team looking to bolster its defensive stock-cupboard, and would fit perfectly on a slightly stronger defensive team that can afford not to rush him up through the development levels.
Chabot is not a nailed-on "blue-chip" prospect defensively. He's likely not a player who will instantly be ready to jump in to help an NHL blueline. But then again, there are very few who are in this draft.
What he is, is a steady, strong player who will more than likely grow into a very effective NHL defenseman given the correct coaching. He's about as close to a "safe" pick as you can get outside of the bells and whistles of the top ten, with relatively low risk and potentially incredibly high reward.
If your team are looking at him, then you should be very pleased indeed. Particularly if by some miracle he falls to the lower teens or even the early twenties in picks. Then, he's not just a steal. He's a jewel robbery.