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PPP's Top 25 Under 25 - #11 Carter Ashton

The world's saddest player on the bubble between the NHL and the AHL rebounds on our countdown. Will he stay long enough to get a chance?

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Spo

Every year our list has one or two players that are extremely difficult to gauge for the following reason; they look like completely different players in the AHL and the NHL that it becomes extremely difficult to try and figure out what their future as an NHL prospect is. On our first list, that player was Matt Frattin (and hilariously enough, now that he's been re-acquired, he might be that player once again). Two years ago, I think that player was Nazem Kadri, and last season it was Joe Colborne (before he was traded at the end of preseason).

This year, the "honour" goes to Carter Ashton.

Ashton didn't have the greatest of seasons in 2012-13, and his placement on our countdown suffered. Last season, he proved that when given the opportunity in the AHL he can deliver on the "power forward" promise that made him a late first-round pick in 2009, and in the NHL he proved that Randy Carlyle treated his 4th line so badly that Amnesty International probably should have considered stepping in.

Carter Ashton rises in our rankings to #11, with the caveat that this is probably his last chance at cracking the Maple Leafs roster.

Birthyear: 1991-04-01 Birthplace: Winnipeg, MB, CAN
Age: 23 Nation: Canada
Position: RW/LW Shoots: L
Height: 191 cm / 6'3" Weight: 98 kg / 216 lbs
Youth Team: Saskatoon MHA Contract: 14/15
Drafted: 2009 round 1 #29 overall by Tampa Bay Lightning

Ashton's season was split between the two leagues, but his role at the two levels couldn't have been more different. With the Toronto Marlies, Ashton was a triggerman, getting chances to play top minutes and being relied upon to produce offence, and Ashton thrived. In 24 games he scored 16 times, 5 more goals than he managed the previous season with the Marlies in 53 games. He had 23 points in 24 games, a point a game clip that, for a 22 year-old, is a perfectly acceptable indicator that they may be able to contribute in a top nine role at the NHL level.

When at the NHL, Ashton never really got an opportunity as anything but a 4th line player in Carlyle's line-up. Ashton only got over 10 minutes of ice time 6 different times, and played less than 5 minutes in 15 different games (including a game against Ottawa where he played a scant 1:42).

The thing that lands Ashton squarely in "tweener" category at the moment is that this wasn't his first part-time shot at the NHL. After he got traded here from Tampa Bay for Keith Aulie, Randy Carlyle (back when we naively thought he was tanking and not just a terrible coach), used him in a similar bottom six role and he didn't even manage a point in 15 games as the Leafs wrapped up their first of what is now an annual free-fall.

If you were looking for a good reason for why Ashton didn't get a lot of opportunities in the NHL last season, that's less clear. Having said that, the reason Ashton was so frequently the one sacrificed to the AHL comes down to his waiver status last season. Though that did allow Jeff Veillette to keep a closer eye on him with the Marlies;

Over the past year or so, Carter Ashton has developed a strong positional awareness at the AHL level. He doesn't blow by his opponents, but he has a sense of where he needs to be to be. That may have been something that came from his time with the Leafs, but whatever the case, he has gone from a solid to great player in the American Hockey League. Ashton put up 16 goals in just 24 regular season games, and added another 4 in 12 in the playoffs. It would be nice to see him add more physicality to his game - you see some of it with the Leafs, but that appears to be a product of the situations he plays in. Ashton will likely be on the Marlies' top line for the bulk of this season, and likely maxes out as a third line NHL winger.

Name birky BowerPower Burtch Chemmy clrkaitken Nikota PPP SkinnyFish 67 Sound FINAL RANK
Carter Ashton 14 17 6 6 10 13 6 20 16 11
Previous Ranking 22 23 14 - 17 17 20 14 - 19

Last season, I said I needed to see a season where Carter Ashton scored like a future top-six player to believe he had it in him. He did that with the Marlies. I think with any coach other than Carlyle (who seems convinced he's a 4th liner), he's got a chance at becoming an effective 3rd liner. - clrkaitken

[Ashton] ssemed to figure out how to put the puck in the net in the AHL last year. He deserves an extended look in the NHL. - Steve Burtch

This season, the Maple Leafs added a whole host of bottom six options, and Ashton is no longer exempt from waivers. If Joe Colborne was any indication, if Ashton can't make the lineup out of camp, the Leafs might force their own hand to move him instead of risk losing him on waivers for no return. With that in mind, it's entirely possible training camp could be the last we see of Carter Ashton in a blue and white sweater.