When Carter Ashton emerged from the Tampa Bay Lightning locker room on Saturday afternoon following the conclusion of the team’s 2010 Development Camp opening session, it wasn’t so much the five morning hours of training that tested his patience, but instead the opportunity to participate in his second consecutive development camp that will once again try his tolerance.
Perhaps unlike other prospect also competing for a roster spot with an NHL team for the first time, Ashton knows that the purpose of his presence at the camp is to improve rather than to impress. That the 19-year-old Winnipeg native remains mentally sound and focused on his game is a testament to not only his experience as a returning hopeful at development camp, but also a mindset that is centered around learning.
“This is definitely a week to learn a lot,” Ashton said. “You want to come in with an open mind, take everything in, and this serves as a great opportunity to do that.”
Similar to many of his future teammates and fellow attendees at camp such as Dana Tyrell, Dustin Tokarski and Mitch Fadden, Ashton already has an edge perhaps as sharp as a skate blade in terms of knowledge that stems from his professional hockey stint as a member of the Norfolk Admirals in the American Hockey League, a setback in the form of an injury suffered in juniors and the wealth of advice given to him by his father, former NHL player Brent Ashton.
The younger Ashton, selected 29th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, missed significant playing time during his 2007-08 junior campaign as a member of the Western Hockey League’s Lethbridge Hurricanes due to a broken collarbone, limiting him to just 40 games in which he recorded five goals and nine points. The injury, although devastating at the time, pushed the winger to work harder as he strived to get back to an optimal playing level. It didn’t take long, as Ashton broke through with a record year marked by career bests just the very next season in 2008-09, registering a team-leading 30 goals and 50 points, the club’s fourth-highest total.
“It definitely taught me a lot,” Ashton added. “I was forced to sit out for about two and a half months, so overcoming that was a pretty big challenge. I think I came back strong though, and to stay healthy in hockey means a lot. Fortunately, I’ve been pretty lucky these last couple of years.”
Not only did Ashton come back strong as evidenced by his impressive statistics, but he also stayed strong, so much so that he made his professional debut this past season with Norfolk following a trade to the WHL’s Regina Pats, registering a goal in 11 games. Although his offensive production with the Admirals appeared minimal, Ashton gained an invaluable experience in which he feels made him more prepared to make the jump to the NHL ranks even sooner than expected.
“It was a great opportunity for me,” Ashton said. “It was huge step from juniors up to the pros. The guys up there skate harder, they’re stronger, the pace of the game is a lot faster, and I think it was really important for me to see that. It turned out to be a great experience and I’m very happy that I was chosen to go up there. It was definitely a lot of fun and I learned a lot.”
The same could be said for many of Ashton’s Norfolk teammates, but perhaps not quite as many have an NHL bloodline like the prospective Lightning right wing. Carter’s father, Brent, is aware of the journey his son is currently taking, being an NHL veteran himself who spanned a 14-year career by appearing in 998 NHL games.
“He’s been there and he knows what it takes, so he’s helped me a lot as a father figure,” Ashton said of his dad. “He’s always been there for me, he’s always giving me pointers on how to improve, and he’s done the best he can to prepare me for things going into my career.”
Ashton, characterized as a power forward-type of player who works the corners, crashes the front of the net and digs in other tough areas with great skill and speed, admitted that although there are facets of the game still in need of improvement, he feels he has what it takes to become a contributor in the NHL. Lightning Development Camp, however, by providing Ashton and others with an additional opportunity to learn, reiterates an old adage that Ashton himself has come to know well. Slow and steady wins the race.