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Devils at the 2009 NHL Draft: A Carter Ashton Overview

Carter Ashton is the first "prototypical" power forward to be given an overview on this very blog as he's not just strong, but fairly large and strong.   He's also the second player to have been picked earlier than 23rd in the SBN Mock Draft.  Blueshirt Banter snagged him at 19th overall today. (SELF PROMOTION ASIDE: See who I picked...tomorrow!)  But as I've discovered, depending on who you read, he could be a top 15 pick or available even at 25-27. 

Carter Ashton - Right Wing - 6'3" - 200 lbs. - Hometown: Saskatoon, SK, Canada
2008-09 Team:  Lethbridge Hurricanes -  70 GP - 30 G -  20 A - 50 PTS - 93 PIM (source)

Now, Jim did a profile on the player and explained his reasoning for taking the winger where he did at Blueshirt Banter.  It's worth your time to read and get an idea of who he is in case you're unfamiliar with him.    Now, let's learn what others had to say about the player who has the first name of a President and the last name of a sad-sack warrior who really likes barrels/or a dude infamous for asking for the location of his motor vehicle.

As usual with these overviews, let's start with an article that establishes why we should consider this player. The British Columbia Edition of Hockey Now has this profile of Ashton that does a very good job of that:

A big-bodied forward with excellent puck skills and a terrific shot, Ashton has all the tools to become a dominant power forward at the next level. With his size, reach and athleticism, Ashton can dominate down low and is very difficult to knock off the puck. He also possesses good skating ability and speed for a player of his size. Ashton is most effective around the net, and can score goals from in close thanks to his quick hands and strength. Yet, with his accurate and heavy shot, Ashton can also score from the outside. Skill and size aside, Ashton also boasts a strong compete level, wins a lot of puck battles, and has good hockey sense.

Yep, these are definitely the traits of a power forward - with the added bonus of being able to skate well, that's an exciting skill set to have.   He's also quite gifted athletically as John MacNeil reported in the Prince Albert Daily Herald that Ashton was in command of the physical tests at the NHL Combine and in demand from NHL teams with a whopping 29 interviews. I doubt that New Jersey isn't one of those 29 teams based on sheer odds alone.

Hockey Now also notes that he did play in the 2009 CHL Top Prospects game and represented Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament last summer.   But his international experience ended that summer. He was not named to Canada's roster for the World U-18 tournament.  Maybe it was because he was busy playing for Lethbridge?  Then again, he also wasn't named to Canada's developmental camp for the World Juniors this summer either.  Hmm, I wonder why?

In any case, Glen Erickson of Hockey's Future did a feature article on the power forward back in November and Ashton described himself as a power forward, in case you need further evidence that he is a power forward:

"They have me playing a bigger role this season among the top-six forwards," Ashton said. "I’ll play on special teams and I know it’s really important that I be productive there and keep the confidence of the coaches. I see myself as a power forward, I like to use my size to get wide and down low, but I have to use these things to produce points."

As far as I know, he was able to use that size!    That his coaches felt he can work on special teams has these quotes from his coach and the director of Central Scouting Services which seem to indicate that Ashton was successful in meeting those expectations to a point:

NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire

"Carter is a solid prototypical power forward; he knows the game and really is astute at the power-play and penalty kill, offensive and defensive parts of his game. He has been complimented for being hockey smart, perhaps the savvy coming from his dad who played 998 games in the NHL."

Lethbridge Hurricanes head coach Michael Dyck

"He is a power forward, for a big guy he skates well, he’s strong, he’s got a pretty good skill set, he shoots the puck pretty well and he goes to the net hard. I think that is essentially why he’s had success this year.

Now, let it be said that Central Scouting Services think very highly of Ashton.  They've had him 10th among North American skaters at the midterm for this draft class and placed him 12th in their final rankings for 2009. As E.J. McGuire alluded to, his dad was none other than Brent Ashton who was a journeyman (8 teams!) who played more than his fair share of hockey in the NHL.   In any case, what his coach and E.J. McGuire say here about his style of game is consistent across the board from what I've read: he's strong, he's big enough to be a legit power forward, and he's got skills.

An even bigger fan of Ashton is Michael Remmerde, the scout and contributing editor for Red Line Report that blogs about players in West Canada at NHL Draft Notes.   Here's his thoughts:

Strengths:Near impossible to knock off the puck. Wins battles for the puck. Very good hands near the net. Underrated overall athleticism. Handles the physical game well.

Weaknesses: Somewhat limited passing ability. Needs help from linemates to produce.

Summary: I just don't get why there isn't more buzz on this guy - textbook definition of "power forward prospect" that everyone is always looking for. At worst, I think he's going to be a great puck possession guy on the low cycle in the NHL. I think it's easy to project his style to the pro game (with a little more filling out of his big frame). If I was drafting 10-15 overall, I'd probably argue hard for him.

Now you can't help but get at least little excited for Ashton after reading all this.  Great strength, good hands, and - best of all - a puck possession player.   Had Sutter stay in New Jersey, he could be a player that he'd love to coach in a few years. Any team who likes to cycle should be very interested in what Ashton could become given what he already does in Lethbridge.

That said, while Remmerde thinks Ashton to be mid-first round pick, what he notes as a weakness is definitely a cause for at least a little concern.   He needs help from his linemates?  For someone who's strong on the puck and can win battles for it, wouldn't that lead one to think he should be able to take initiative?  I'm not saying he should be a playmaker on top of what he should do; but at the junior level, you wouldn't expect to read that he could be a very gifted complementary player.  It could very well explain why, on a playoff team, his breakthrough season was only 50 points in 70 games.  This is actually the main concern Kent W. had when he did a profile on Ashton at Matchsticks and Gasoline:

At 6'3" and 200+ pounds, Carter is an imposing package and looks to be a "text book power forward" according to Remmerde, who lists assets such as strength, ability to win puck battles and soft hands in close in his review of the player. All are nice things to have and are "projectable" to the NHL. That said, this kids numbers raise some red flags in my head. Firstly, while he was leading goal scorer on his club, he was actually 5th in terms of total points (50) and 6th in terms of PPG pace (0.71). Of the top 10 scorers on the Hurricanes, Carter scored the most PP goals (10) and had the worst plus/minus (-5). Remmerde also notes that Ashton slumped in the second half of the season after being taken off a line with leading assist man and point getter Colton Sceviour. The downturn was a marked one and visible by glancing at the game-by-game results: from January - March, a period of 31 games, Ashton scored just 9 goals and was a cumulative -18. Yikes. That slump continued into the post season where he scored just 1 goal and 3 points in 11 games (and was a team worst -8).

I know numbers alone aren't to be trusted, but Kent really dug deep and found some head-scratching figures. He essentially proved Remmerde's listed weakness of relying on teammates; and to me, that raises some more questions. Maybe he's got the shot and the physical skills, but not really the finishing?  Maybe he just needs to be with a playmaker, which is understandable to a point? And only 3 points in 11 playoff games, seriously?  What Kent found provides further background behind that 30-20-50 total, and I'd have to think it could explain why other scouting services have him ranked much lower than 12th among North American skaters. 

Mark Stepneski has that covered at Andrew's Stars Page, stating that ISS has him 33rd overall, Red Line Report and McKeen's both place him at 22nd overall, and The Hockey News lists him 20th overall.   Not that these are bad rankings, but definitely a marked difference from 12th overall like CSS! Stepneski also has this quote from The Hockey News' draft guide as well which provide other possible reasons as to why Ashton isn't so high in some people's opinion:

"He's highly skilled - he skates well and has great hands in tight. He just has to work on his compete level in all three zones."
- A scout, quoted in
The Hockey News 2009 NHL Draft Guide

His compete level?  Does the scout think Ashton needs to work harder or does the scout think he needs to be more intense? The two aren't the same, and I'm a less concerned with the latter than I would be with the former.  Honestly, I'm not too swayed by this as other scouting reports note that Ashton does work hard and battle for the puck.  Then again, the scout actually did see him whereas I'm going on what others say here, so your mileage may vary with that, I suppose.


Lastly, Farhan Devji of Inside Hockey offers an interesting theory in his mock draft - that Ashton himself didn't necessarily do anything wrong in '08-'09:

Son of former NHL’er Brent Ashton, Carter Ashton is a big power forward with a nice offensive touch. Ashton is great in the corners and proves nearly impossible to knock off the puck. Many believe that Ashton will crack the top 15 in this year’s draft, but I see him falling just a little bit not because he’s done anything wrong, but because others have done a little bit more to improve their stock in recent months.

This isn't such a far-fetched idea.  It's not necessarily Ashton's fault Hockey Canada didn't select him for the World U-18 tournament.  That tournament is one of the last times scouts see these players play against each other, allowing for final comparisons, a chance to see how they do on a "big stage," and to see how some players have changed over the course of a season.   Ashton didn't get the benefit of that experience, whereas some prospects like, for example, Drew Shore, Calvin de Haan, Tim Erixon, Dylan Olsen, and Jeremy Morin did get featured (for better or worse).   Combined with his production issues in Lethbridge, and I can definitely see why some aren't big on Ashton like Remmerde or CSS are.

Truth be told, I would like to see a power forward prospect in the system. The Devils used to have a couple potential players like that earlier this decade, but Barry Tallackson, Jason Ryznar, and Tuomas Pihlman (among others) never turned out to be more than AHL players at best.  I think Ashton would certainly fit a need in the system and his style of play is, for lack of a better word, desirable.  That he's strong as an ox and can skate pretty well is definitely a solid combination.    While it seems that the guy may end up only as a complementary player, he could still be quite valuable in the right system.  If he slips to 23rd overall, I think the Devils should consider him and I think it could be a good enough pick.  I wouldn't complain.  But would he be the best player at that spot?  I'm not sure, who knows if the Devils will play a puck possession style by the time he's ready for the NHL.  Honestly, I still end up liking Palmieri over Ashton as a forward pick.