Ashton has big skates to fill

by Samantha Wood || for

Carter Ashton has some big skates to fill.

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2009 first-round draft pick (29th overall) is in the midst of a stellar rookie season with the American Hockey League’s Norfolk Admirals. Though Ashton is proving his mettle as a professional hockey player in his own right, he follows in the footsteps of a father whose own career spanned 14 years in the NHL.

Brent Ashton made just two games shy of 1,000 appearances for seven NHL organizations, scoring a career 284 goals and adding 345 assists for 629 points, along with 635 penalty minutes.

His son seems to have inherited his offensive spark; the 20-year-old Carter has 11 goals and six assists for 17 points in his 16 AHL games this season.

“He’s helped me along the way,” Carter Ashton said of his father, who spent a number of years coaching in the Saskatoon minor hockey system after retiring from the NHL. “I think more in my younger years he coached me up through my minor hockey years. He’s nice to have as obviously someone to talk hockey with.”

Father and son now have plenty to talk about with Carter’s early success. He was named the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week for the opening week of the season, and was tapped as the league’s Rookie of the Month for October.

“It’s pretty nice to get those distinctions early on,” Carter said. “They’re kind of just part of our team’s early success I think too.

“Getting off to a good team start helped me to get a few points like that. I think our team found some really good chemistry right off the bat.”

The Admirals enter the new week second in the AHL’s East Division, with a 9-6-0-1 record and 19 points – only one point behind first-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Ashton attributes the on-ice chemistry, which gave way to his recent success, to an early schedule of road trips and off-ice bonding.

“Early on (in training camp) we had a road trip to St. John’s so we got to jell a lot like that,” Ashton said. “Back home we spend a lot of time together, so to be able to practice and work out and help each other in games like that, it helps a lot.”

Ashton, who currently leads the AHL in goals (11) and is tied for third in points (16), said he can already see a difference in his game since turning pro. The former Canadian junior standout and 2011 World Junior silver medalist said he had to adjust to playing against “grown men,” whose speed and strength surpass that of his previous opponents.

“I think my size is one of the things I try to use the most,” he said. “Just being a pro for the last month or so, just starting to get stronger and faster and mature as a player.

“Obviously I’ve been doing a lot here in the last month with the coaches and the players and being in pros now, you get a lot of chances to work on your game.”
Ashton and the Admirals will head back to St. John’s this week for their first regular-season meetings with the IceCaps, top affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets; Norfolk won two of three from St. John’s during their preseason visit to Newfoundland, and Ashton hopes to repeat that success this weekend while continuing to work toward his and all hockey players’ ultimate goal – making it to the NHL.

“I want to get into the NHL as early as I can and make a career for myself,” he said. “I still have a long way to go but that’s the main goal I have, to be in the NHL.”