TLN Top Twenty Prospects: #10 Carter Ashton

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I know what some of you are thinking. How is a 23 year old ranked in the top ten of a prospects list? Particularly one that made his Leafs debut three seasons ago, and has almost fifty NHL games under his belt? Carter Ashton, of course, fits that description. But I’d like to argue that we haven’t really seen what Carter Ashton can be at the NHL level yet.

To say that Ashton’s production at the highest level has been a disappointment so far would be an understatement. The 2009 1st round pick has just three points in his first 47 NHL games, and is still looking for his first NHL goal. But there are two things that influence this.

The first is simple – was he put into a position to succeed? 

In his first NHL stint, a 15 game opportunity at the end of 2011/12, Ashton’s linemates were mixed. He spent some time with Matt Frattin and Mikhail Grabovski, but spent almost as much with Joey Crabb and David Steckel. He also had an astonishing level of bad luck. Not only did he not score when he was on the ice, none of his linemates did. Yes, over 15 games, he had an on-ice shooting percentage of zero. This isn’t something that happens often, no matter how poor you may or may not play. 

This year? He was around more. Thirty two games, probably a bit more opportunity, right? Well, it would be if his top line mates (by a large margin) weren’t Jay McClement and Colton Orr. That line by no means was out there to produce, and it showed. How do you score a goal if you’re expecting the enforcer and the shutdown centre to be your offensive support? He ended up on the ice for a couple, but the team still shot at a fair bit under the league average with him on the ice. He also started more of his shifts in the defensive zone than on the other side (with his line being largely ineffective at moving forward).

There’s also the matter of how you play when you play with these linemates. Do you “lone wolf” it and try to deke the world? Of course not, especially when that’s not in your skillset. When you want to keep a roster spot, you adapt to the spot you’re given. For Ashton, that’s meant becoming a grinder type. It’s pretty evident when you look at his shot attempt numbers how that progressed as time went by. In his first stint, he averaged 12.4 shot attempts per 60 minutes. Last season? A bit of a drop to 11.3. That’s almost as much as McClement and Orr combined (about 13.5), but the intent was obvious.

It’s a shame too, because if you watch him play for the Toronto Marlies, you can see why people are hyped up about him. He isn’t trying to hit everything in sight in an attempt to impress, but he’s physical. He doesn’t drop the mitts, but he imposes. Most of all, he becomes a noticeable offensive player.

Granted, it’s been a process. He’s gone from 6 points in 13 (regular season and playoff) games in 11/12, to 24 in 62, to a ridiculous 20 goals and 12 assists in 36 AHL games this season. I don’t think that he’ll keep scoring at that clip; the 16 in 24 that he had in the regular season was particularly out of this world, but unlike the NHL, he was relied on to get into position and create scoring opportunities.

“Spotter and Kinger were great when I came down.” said Ashton at the end of the season. “They put me into situations where I could succeed, they worked on my game, and wanted me to get back to that level.” 

This meant a lot of powerplay time, and a lot of time with other high end players. Instead of having an enforcer on the other wing, he would have playmaker Spencer Abbott. Down the middle, he’d typically have one of Peter Holland or Greg McKegg. These were guys out there to score, and he’d find ways to help out, whether it was to go for the slight cherry pick on an Abbott feed, or it was crashing the net for a loose puck. 

I do think there was benefit to his NHL time, however. The pace of the game at the top is obviously faster, and you could tell that every time he came down, he was more aware of what position to be in to create opportunities. This lead to a lot of high-percentage chances that he ended up frequently taking advantage of.

Overall, Ashton saw the year as a good one. “It was a learning experience this year. Every time you go down or head up, you adjust to roles and the level of hockey. I’ve matured as a player to go through those situations.”

I’d expect Ashton to spend the bulk of his time this season with the Marlies, at least until the Leafs figure out the bottom six log-jam on the wings. That may work out to his benefit, however, as it gives him  more time to bring out the offensive side of his game, and possibly impress opposing scouts. I don’t know if his future is necessarily in Toronto, but I think he can be a usable NHL forward if he played on a line that’s expected to contribute. He’s somebody that we think we’ve seen a lot of at that level, but when you think about it, we may not have really seen him at all.

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Kuhn / @jennkuhnS4C

  • Kanuunankuula

    A really good overview, good work as usual Jeffler.

    I was nodding my head right until the end:

    “I’d expect Ashton to spend the bulk of his time this season with the Marlies, at least until the Leafs figure out the bottom six log-jam on the wings.”

    I think Ashton is no longer waiver exempt, so I don’t think they will risk exposing him.

    I think Ashton will be with the Leafs and be given a chance with legitimate hockey players even if it’s on the fourth line. Orr and Bodie will be sent down. Bodie can actually play, but he has cleared waivers many times before so there is less of a danger of losing him.

    The lines could look something like this:
    JVR Bozak Kessel
    Lupul Kadri Clarkson or Frattin
    Komorov Santorelli Clarkson or Frattin
    Booth Holland Ashton

    Perhaps Winnik is the 13th forward? He is older and less ice time won’t hurt his development like the young guys

    I have seen many other line combinations that make sense, so the one on opening day might be quite different than what I have guessed.

    I have heard Kontiola is still waiver exempt so maybe better to send him down until there is an injury, unless he is lights out in training camp.

    Phaneuf, Gardiner Reilly Robidias Polack and Franson are your top six defencemen. Granberg is still waiver exempt and so they can push him up and down as needed.

    The goalies are Bernier and Reimer.

  • Gumby

    If Ashton is our number 10 prospect, we’re in trouble. I like his size, his effort/hustle, but not the results. Being a forward, one should have bounced in off his ass or face by now. “I think he can be a usable NHL forward” This statement does not scream top ten to me. Yes, he might be usable, but is that where you put your top ten prospect? Might be usable. I get that he is great on the Marlies, look up Jock Callander, to see a great AHL player. He couldn’t stay on the bottom six of last years team. That’s not good.

    • Gumby

      No offence, but did you not read the article at all? The article clearly stated the reason for his results. As for not being able to say on the bottom six, that’s Carlyle fault (among many, many other faults).

      • Kanuunankuula

        Ya a did read it, that’s where I saw the quote, “one day he’ll make a usable player”. It took him until last year to put it together at the AHL level, before that he just skating around hitting people and not scoring, like he does with the leafs. I don’t understand why so many people are so high on this guy, half a good AHL season does not a good player make. Is it because he’s a first rounder? Cause we have another one of those that is also a bust, of is it biggs. Of course I want to be wrong, and he sticks with the big club and scores 50 goals. But I don’t think a “usable player will score that many. As for his linemates, I agree, that’s why RC should have been fired, well one of the reasons.

        • Kanuunankuula

          sometimes it takes prospects (especially “power forwards”) a few years to put things together, even at the AHL level. it’s encouraging to see that he’s making progress; if he hadn’t scored at such a high rate in the AHL this year i’d be much more worried about his chances at becoming a usable player.

          put him with some relatively decent linemates, and at the very least he’ll pick up some garbage goals. he’s pretty decent at protecting and cycling the puck, but he’s not talented enough to do it all himself.

          that said, i found this profile of him from his draft year and had to laugh at how far short of the projections he’s fallen: http://thehockeywriters.com/15-carter-ashton%E2%80%93-the-hockey-spy%E2%80%99s-2009-nhl-entry-draft-rankings/

        • Kanuunankuula

          He had a good season with Norfolk before coming to the Marlies. His first full season with the Marlies was during the lockout, where he didn’t get much of a chance to play higher up in the lineup. See how he does after this season before writing him off.

  • Kanuunankuula

    Are you sure you didn’t just take an oilersnation article about Anton Lander and change the name? Because if so that’s pretty lazy.

    First you guys steal our strategy of getting hopelessly outshot game in and game out, then you go ahead and start copying our mid grade prospect “development” system. What’s next, tanking for high draft picks?

  • Jonythehatguy

    Yea just goes to show you how toxic having Orr and McClement in the lineup actually was. Not only did it probably stunt this guys growth but it also made for a line that wasn’t built to succeed. Having to have “goons” in the lineup is an old and tired notion in hockey. If you don’t have 4 lines filled with the best players in your system, then whats the point.