Many experts had Carter Ashton tabbed to go anywhere from 18th to 22nd in the first round of the NHL entry draft June 26.
The Lightning scouting staff had the wing from Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League ranked higher on its draft board. As each pick went by and other teams filled their needs, Lightning Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton said he worked hard on the phones to move up and acquire another first-round pick.
Everything fell perfectly into place when Ashton slipped to 29th and the Lightning made a deal with Detroit to make sure they added his 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame to the organization’s future.
“It’s a great feeling when a team trades up to pick you,” Ashton said, on the first day of the Lightning’s Young Guns prospect camp. “You know that the team really wants you. I couldn’t be more happy with the way it worked out.”
After missing a lot of games with a broken collarbone as a 16-year-old, Ashton burst on the scene this season with 30 goals, 20 assists and 93 penalty minutes in 70 games for the Hurricanes.
At the NHL draft combine, he led all players with a 352-pound push-strength measure and the strongest grip. He is a true power forward, who plays the type of style the Lightning brass is looking for.
“With the rules now and what we’re trying to create here, I like A to B type players,” Lightning Head Coach Rick Tocchet said. “Those are guys that are very good with give and go’s, that go to the net very well and are very good along the wall. You saw in the playoffs that the guys who come through were the A to B type players and I think [Ashton] is that kind of player.”
Ashton, 18, relishes that role. In the scrimmage Saturday night at the St. Pete Times Forum, Ashton was a constant threat below the face-off dots and burrowed down the slot to score a goal.
“That’s where I find my success,” said Ashton. “With my size and speed, one thing I like to do is go to the net hard. I like to do the little things right and that’s just one of them.”
It isn’t difficult to figure out where Ashton got his hockey sense and work ethic. Brent Ashton, Carter’s father, played 998 games in the NHL from 1979-1993 with 284 goals and 629 points. He played with eight different organizations. Carter said his father, who coached him in minor hockey, taught him the sacrifice he needed to become an NHL player.
“He’s been a huge influence,” Carter said. “To have someone with his knowledge around is a big advantage for me.”
Lawton played on the Minnesota North Stars with Brent Ashton from 1983-85.
“Brent is a great guy,” Lawton said. “He was very outgoing, very tough and really skilled. I always gave him a hard time because I think he was one of the few people in the league traded more than me. But at the end of the day, that was a real positive because Brent was a player that people always wanted on their team and he brought some unique skill sets.
“Carter’s going be his own man and do things his way. When I watched him play, I saw a lot of his dad in him, but I saw a different player as well with his own identity.”
Brent Ashton was picked 26th in the NHL draft by Vancouver in 1979, but it was the second round then. Carter was born when his father was with the Winnipeg Jets and the family now lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He was picked seventh overall in the WHL bantam draft in 2006.
Ashton said he came to the Young Guns Camp to learn.
“It’s been great,” Ashton said. “I have definitely learned a lot from the coaches. I think everybody from the camp is going to take a lot home to work on.”
This is the first step. He knows there is a lot of work to be done.
“I’m a big player, and I try to use my strength,” Ashton said. “So I do feel I need to get even stronger and faster to get to the next level.”
Tocchet likes what he sees.
“He is a quality kid,” Tocchet said. “It’s a process for these guys. And we’re going to take it one step at a time.”