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Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Carter Ashton must go from scorer to grinder to make team next season

Forward Carter Ashton, at development camp this week, was the second of the Lightning’s two first-round draft picks in 2009.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Forward Carter Ashton, at development camp this week, was the second of the Lightning’s two first-round draft picks in 2009.

BRANDON — Consider the seemingly incongruous situation faced by Carter Ashton.

Chatter is the Lightning prospect has a chance next season to make the team out of training camp. The catch is he must change the style of play that made him one of the elite players in the junior Western Hockey League.

Think of that. To get to the NHL, Ashton, 20, must transform from a free-wheeling, high-octane offensive player to one who grinds and checks first and scores goals later.

Talk about a change of pace.

"I definitely understand that," Ashton said Tuesday at the end of Tampa Bay's development camp at the Ice Sports Forum. "I'd accept that role if I had an opportunity to play on this team. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to try and prove myself."

The change has as much to do with Ashton — for whom Tampa Bay traded up to draft 29th overall in 2009 — as with the lineup spot that opened when Sean Bergenheim signed with the Panthers as a free agent this offseason. It is a bottom-six position among forwards, meaning it is primarily a defensive and checking role.

It would seem a big adjustment for a player who last season for Tri-City and Regina had 33 goals and 71 points in 62 games. Ashton was so good that Lightning prospect Tyler Johnson, who played for WHL Spokane and faced the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Ashton numerous times, called him "a man among boys."

But Al Murray, Tampa Bay's director of amateur scouting, said Ashton's strength is in a grittier game.

"He had enough skill on the junior level that he sometimes perceived himself as an offensive player," Murray said. "Because he's big and strong and has good hands, he could get away without being that grind guy and still be an effective player. But what he's going to be as a pro is a two-way, good size, work the corners, move (the puck) to the point, go to the front of the net, tip it in. But he has to develop that game shift after shift after shift."

It helps that Ashton played that way for the 2011 world silver-medal-winning Canadian junior team, for which he had a goal and three points and was plus-1 in seven championship games.

What kind of chance does Ashton have to make the team? The jump from junior to the NHL is severe, and he will be competing against players including Mattias Ritola, Blair Jones and Tom Pyatt, each of whom has NHL experience.

"Carter is one of those guys who is going to be right on the bubble," Murray said. "He has to grind every single shift. For Carter, it's more a mental attitude of 'This is what I have to do all the time.' If he does that, he's going to be very close."

If he doesn't, "then he's going to have to go to (AHL Norfolk)," Murray said, "and prepare himself to play that kind of game every shift."

"You just come in with the mind-set to prove yourself," Ashton said. "This is my first real shot, but that's the kind of mind-set you want to have coming into camp. A lot of guys are competing for spots. Time is going to tell when I come into camp. We'll see what happens."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Carter Ashton must go from scorer to grinder to make team next season 07/12/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 12:22am]

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