One of the main reasons that the Norfolk Admirals have a chance to move into a tie for first place in their division on Wednesday night is because of their fine core of rookies that have tormented AHL defenses since the season started. Among the group of impressive Admiral rookies, none has had as thorough impact on the team than Carter Ashton.
Ashton, a 20-year-old native of Winnipeg, has 18 goals and 16 assists in 51 games this season, which is his first full pro year after a junior career where he played for the Western Hockey League's Lethbridge Hurricanes, Regina Pats and Tri-City Americans.
A former first-round (29th overall) draft pick of the Lightning in 2009, Ashton's breakout 2011-12 season started with a nine-goal and 13-point month of October, which resulted in him getting named the AHL's Rookie of the Month in October.
In addition to getting tabbed as the AHL's top rookie in the season's first month, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound right wing was named the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week for the first week of the season during which he ignited Norfolk’s season with an overtime goal against the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) on Opening Night.
October's AHL Rookie of the Month tab just the start of big season in Norfolk for Ashton
However, Ashton has proven that he is more than a one-trick pony, as he’s evolved into one of the Admirals’ better checkers and penalty killers.
“His play away from the puck has been an asset to us,” says Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. “He plays on one of our big lines that plays against our opponents’ top scorers. Teams have tried to test him, but he’s stood up to the challenge and really earned a lot of respect around the league.”
A main reason that Ashton has been able to display an all-round maturity beyond his years at such an early age can be traced back to how he’s been taught and trained from a young age. Growing up, he was coached by his father, Brent Ashton, who played 998 career NHL games with the Vancouver Canucks, Colorado Rockies, New Jersey Devils, Minnesota North Stars, Quebec Nordiques, Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets, Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames.
Besides being a 14-year NHL veteran, a certain aspect of Brent Ashton’s career provides him with a breadth of knowledge slightly different than almost anybody who has ever played the game. For many years, Brent Ashton held the NHL record for the most times having been traded (8), which is a record which has since been eclipsed by former one-time Bolt Mike Sillinger, who was traded 10 times during his career.
However, his many travels gave Brent Ashton a chance to experience many more coaches and teammates than the average NHL player. He played for John Paddock in Winnipeg, Harry Neale in Vancouver and Jacques Demers in Detroit, where he made back-to-back runs to the Campbell Conference Finals as a teammate of current Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.
“It’s nice to have someone like him to talk hockey with,” said Carter Ashton. “He really taught me a lot in my younger years and he’s definitely a good role model who has really helped me a lot.”
But for all of his father’s vast experience, the younger Ashton has started to sculpt his own identity. He’s been well known in Canada since he scored the gold-medal winning goal for Canada’s U-18 team at 2008 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament.
“It’s a big stage when you put anybody on a national team in Canada,” said Jon Cooper. “Carter played on some big stages and I think that helped him a little bit with his maturity.”
Ashton is also quick to credit the experience of his teammates as a main reason he’s continued to develop his all-round game.
“We’re a tight-knit team,” said Ashton. “During the preseason, we went to St. John’s for training camp and we really gelled. We have the chemistry as a team and compete together. With the chemistry we have, it just seems that any line Coop (Jon Cooper) throws together clicks.”
With a record of 30-18-1-2, the Admirals have the fifth most points in the AHL and look to extend their winning streak to four against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Wednesday night.