Top Prospect Carter Ashton Makes AHL Debut

Get the call from the agent.

Race to the airport.

Hop a bus, a cab, whatever - it’s the chaos of being a professional athlete.

Suit up, meet the new coach, absorb the playbook, and connect with new linemates.

Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Carter Ashton, the No.2 prospect in the organization according to Bolt Prospects, recently experienced the rush after his call-up to the organization’s AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, this month.

Ashton, 18, knew the phone could ring at any moment and was relatively calm.

“I was excited to get the call from my agent to play in the AHL,” Ashton said, who was selected in the first-round (29th overall)in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. “These guys are quicker and stronger. You have to have the right mindset. Nervous? Not too much. I feel pretty comfortable, this is the next level from juniors, and you want to be here."

Ashton is no stranger to competition. He used to watch his dad, former NHL winger Brent Ashton, play.

Brent played for eight teams during his career, including the Winnipeg Jets and Boston Bruins in the 1990s.

"There’s no doubt being around my dad was a huge influence,” the right winger acknowledged. “He coached me in [minor hockey] when I was, I think 13. But now, he knows it’s up to me and he’s letting me make my own decisions and he's taken a step back.”

Ashton’s pivotal season came in 2008-09 when he notched 30 goals, adding 20 assists in 70 games for the Hurricanes.

He split this season between the Hurricanes and the Regina Pats after a late season trade. With the Hurricanes, he collected 13 goals and 26 points in 28 appearances. After being traded to the Pats, he registered 25 points in 37 games.

“I have had great experiences in juniors, and if I return next season - I will be the best I can be there, or if I play professional,” said Ashton, who compiled 110 points in 171 games between his junior clubs.

Norfolk Admirals coach Leigh Mendelson scouted Ashton for a week, explaining why the organization is so high on the perspicacious player.

“He’s poised with the puck, he understands his position,” said Mendelson. “He has a great hockey I.Q., and has a great presence for a player who is only 18. He’s not a puck guy per se. He’s not going to split the defense. He can protect the puck down low in the offensive zone, but Carter understands when to keep the puck and move it out. He has great focus, and can finish his checks. He just needs to learn to keep it simple. But I have to say this: he has a great attitude - very mature for his age.”

A couple of days after meeting the Admirals, Ashton notched his first goal March 19 against the Adirondack Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers) in Glen Falls, N.Y.

The tally came off an assist from second-round pick, Richard Panik, who arrived the same time Ashton did.

“That was great. I was on the line with Panik. He went wide with the puck so I went toward the net, he sent the puck that way, and I had a loose stick and was able to tap it in.”

In the offseason, Ashton will take his usual break at his cabin in Canada by getting a little fishing in before he prepares for camp.

Then it’s back to work on his skating.

“My skating is something I’m working on; guys like me have to work harder because of our size,” said the mild mannered Ashton. “I will workout this summer at home [Saskatoon] to gain more strength in my legs. So I mean, to play at the next level, you have to improve your skating.”

Ashton played in three preseason games with Tampa, good enough to ink a pro contract. But again, Ashton assumes nothing, and won’t make predictions about his NHL career, at least not now.

“I can’t tell you what line I see myself on,” Ashton added. “It’s a lot of hard work to get there. It’s an ongoing process. I’m focusing on keeping it simple around the net, skating faster so I can get to that level. It’s still far off. I’m focused on helping here right now. The Lightning stays in contact with me, and I’m going in the right direction."

Whether it’s taking a bus, a cab, or one day flying on the Lightning’s charter jet on a dime, Ashton, who turns 19 on April 1, exhibits a unique composure for his age.

So it’s no surprise when asked about his recent transition he seemed unfazed by playing professionally.

“That just comes with being a hockey player,” he said. “I’m getting more comfortable, I'm playing in a faster league and we’ll see what happens.”

(Tampa Bay Lightning photo)