Carter Ashton, the player that the Leafs received from Tampa Bay in exchange for Keith Aulie, makes his debut on our list at 15.
Over the last few seasons, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been diligently trying to build the future of its blueline. It has done so by trading for established veteran players that can be relied upon at the NHL level (Dion Phaneuf, John-Michael Liles), trading for young players looking for an opportunity to break through to the next level (Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner), and drafting talented young defencemen to provide help a few years down the road (Jesse Blacker, Morgan Rielly).
This glut of strong defensive prospects has given Toronto a position of strength from which to trade and address areas of need. Ahead of last year's trade deadline, the Leafs made such a deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning when they sent towering but underachieving defender Keith Aulie to the Lightning in exchange for the former first-rounder, power forward Carter Ashton.
Getting an opportunity to join a team with less competition for key roles, Ashton got a brief taste of the NHL last season, and will come into this season looking to join Joe Colborne, Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin as young Leaf prospects aiming to force their way onto the Maple Leaf roster. The Winnipeg, MB native possesses a strong mix of two-way hockey and physical play, and debuts on our list at #15.
Ashton is a little similar to Joe Colborne in the sense that both were having trouble finding ice time as rookies due to depth on their AHL teams. As a result both were made expendable by the clubs and used to acquire help in other areas. Ashton is yet another big "power-forward" type, but unlike some of the other players Brian Burke brought in during that period, he comes with more offensive upside than a Christian Hanson or a Marcel Mueller.
He does remind me slightly of Luca Caputi, although Caputi was a better scorer in the OHL, but I think Ashotn is better suited to using his size to his advantage in the pros.
Ashton had a short stint with the Marlies before receiving a call-up to finish the season with the Leafs due to injuries and the team's general awfulness. A concussion cut short Ashton's season and limited his playoffs to just 6 games. Overall Ashton scored 38 points in 63 games, a decent rookie season and a number that Ashton will surely look to improve on (assuming he stays with the Marlies). The departure of Mueller opens up a wing spot in the Marlies top six and Ashton could easily step into that role.
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I'll preface my explanation for my ranking by saying I think Carter has a tremendous amount of skill and could be a sort of Nikolai Kulemin type player who can survive on a second line but would thrive dominating possesion on a third line on a stronger team. Ashton didn't look out of place physically in his brief stint in the NHL, but needs a bit more time to work on the adjustments required for competing at the NHL level.
Having said that, it's my opinion that Ashton got ranked too high. 15 games in the NHL (when the season was effectively over), and 7 regular season and 6 playoff AHL games isn't enough time to make a truly objective decision on where he stands. At this point I can only try and figure out what to expect based on what he's already done.
The fact is Brad Ross outscored Ashton in the same league, Josh Leivo outscored him at a younger age in a similar league, and I think Jerry D'Amigo is right now higher on the Marlies depth chart (though with the benefit of an extra half season in the AHL). Ultimately I think Carter Ashton could pass these individuals, but I'd rather wait for him to prove so.
Ashton has arrived at an opportune time in the organization to take advantage of his chances, but he can't waste his time since more prospects are coming to take their opportunity.