In a span of a half-season, Thomas Chabot has progressed from playing with a veteran partner to being the seasoned one on the back end with the Saint John Sea Dogs.
That's precipitated the huge spike in the 17-year-old's NHL draft stock, which is reminiscent of how the Calgary Hitmen's Travis Sanheim made a jump last season to becoming a No. 17 overall selection by the Philadelphia Flyers. Chabot possesses some rare qualities as a 6-foot-2, 179-pound defenceman with speed and lateral mobility who is capable of leading an offensive rush. The NHL Central Scouting service initially saw Chabot as a B prospect, but placed him No. 15 in its midterm North American ranking.
"The scouts probably know that the special part of my game is in the offensive zone," says Chabot, who is on Team Orr for Thursday's CHL Top Prospects Game (7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT, Sportsnet). "I always want to get better in my own zone because we know, today, in the NHL, everyone has to play well in both zones.
"At first this season I was playing with [fourth-year junior] Adam Bateman, who's 19 years old and has got a lot of experience," adds Chabot, who has counted seven goals and 26 points across 43 games. "That helped me a lot on my behalf. Now I'm with [6-foot-5 rookie] Bailey Webster. It's his first year, so I'm working a lot with him in practice of how to keep things simple. I'm not going to say that's hard since he's a good player, but you do have to build a relationship with your D partner. That's been pretty good for me."
The Sea Dogs under GM Darrell Young and coach Ross Yates are ahead of schedule in their growth cycle. Saint John is sixth overall in the 18-team QMJHL while relying on a unique amalgam of highly touted youngsters — Chabot, 17-year-old centre Nathan Noel and 16-year-old Luke Green — and free agents from the OHL such as Bateman and overage forward Justice Dundas. All told, nine Sea Dogs were included in Central Scouting's midterm ranking.
Chabot, who hails from Ste-Marie-de-Beauce, Que., is careful to keep the horse in front of the cart when it comes to Saint John's progress. But he's eager to try to restore Saint John to the perch it had while winning consecutive President's Cup titles in 2011 and '12, along with the Maritimes' first Memorial Cup in 2011.
"I saw Jonathan Huberdeau at the QMJHL draft last year and he wished me good luck for the season and the future," Chabot says, referring to the Florida Panthers forward who has reunited with former Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant in the NHL. "We have one of the youngest teams in the CHL and the the league knows we're young, so they really want to play hard against us."
"They've done a lot of great things in Saint John," Chabot notes. "It's a really, really good organization so there's a lot of pride."
1. How did you absorb being 15th on the Central Scouting midterm list?
"It's only a list, but I was pretty proud of myself because I knew I'd been working well to better my game. But, again, it's only a list."
2. Which NHL defenceman do you study closely?
"Keith Yandle." (Even though he played for Moncton?) "I saw him play once in the QMJHL. A lot of scouts tell me that I look like him when he was in the QMJHL. He's a really good defenceman in the NHL, plays both ways on the ice and that's a player I want to be like later in my career."
3. Other than hockey, what's your favourite sport?
"I've played baseball — fastball — during the summer. When I wasn't playing hockey, I was playing baseball. Just to switch playing another sport was always good after playing hockey all winter. I played shortstop and pitcher."
4. Where is your favourite road rink in the QMJHL?
"Quebec City, it's 20 minutes away from my hometown.." (How many family and friends do you usually have there?) "Last time I had close to 100 people. Just for me."
5. What is your favourite movie?
"The classics — Slap Shot or Youngblood."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.