On the eve of the Tampa Bay Lightning 2009-10 season opener in Atlanta Saturday night, General Manager Brian Lawton continues his contract-happy week by inking 2009 1st round draft pick Carter Ashton to a three-year entry level contract. Following a strong training camp, Ashton was returned to his WHL junior team in Lethbridge last weekend, and is expected to play the balance of the 2009-10 season with the Hurricanes.
Lawton also signed former NHL All-Star Adam Oates to a contract as a Lightning assistant coach under Rick Tocchet. Oates, widely regarded as one of the all-time best set up players, has been working with the Lightning coaching staff and team during training camp as an unpaid assistant and and advisor. During the exhibition season, under Oates' guidance, the Lightning power play has shown marked improvement over last season featuring a top unit comprised of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone, and Kurtis Foster.
Lawton may not be done with his signing spree following Thursday's signing of Mitch Fritz and today's inkings, as 2009 6th round pick Jaroslav Janus is rumored to be the next target of Lawton's pen. Lawton has stated that Janus had a strong training camp and is trying to get an entry-level deal done with his agent. Meanwhile the Slovakian netminder has not been returned to his OHL junior team in Erie and continues to practice with the Norfolk Admirals squad as an unsigned player.
Lethbridge Hurricanes 3 @ Kamloops Blazers 5
RW Carter Ashton, LET: 1-0-1, -1, 7 PIM (roughing, fighting, game misconduct)
Season totals: 4 GP, 1-0-1, -9, 9 PIM
Despite outshooting Kamloops 40-26, Lethbridge remains the lone WHL team without a win (0-6) as they fell 5-3 to the Blazers Wednesday. Ashton, who scored 30 goals last year to lead the team, notched his first of the season in his fourth game since returning from Lightning camp. His goal came on the power play, but he was kicked out mid-way through the second period for fighting.
Gregg Drinnan of the Kamloops Daily News has the story: â€œWith the score 2-2 midway through the second period, Kamloops winger Tyler Shattock lowered the boom on Reid Jackson, leaving the Lethbridge defenceman laying on the ice and wondering where he was.
As so often happens in these situations, players partnered up before Brett Lyon of the Blazers and Lethbridgeâ€™s Mike Reddington finally fought. The other players dispersed to their bench areas, but Hurricanes forward Carter Ashton, whose goal three minutes earlier had forged a 2-2 tie, got caught up in traffic at the Blazersâ€™ bench. Brandon Underwood, playing in his second straight game after being scratched for the seasonâ€™s first three outings, ended up engaging Ashton and both players received roughing minors, fighting majors and game misconducts.â€
Lethbridge Hurricanes 1 @ Vancouver Giants 5
RW Carter Ashton, LET: 0-0-0, -1, 0 PIM
Season totals: 2 GP, 0-0-0, -6, 10 PIM
This was supposed to be a match-up of Lightning prospects James Wright and Ashton, but Wright went and made the Lightning, leaving the Giants in a quandary. Vancouver made a trade earlier Tuesday, acquiring Cass Mappin (undrafted) to help replace Wright. Mappin had an assist vs. Lethbridge. It doesnâ€™t look as though Vancouver needs the help, though â€“ Lethbridge does. The â€˜Canes remain the lone WHL team without a win (0-5). Theyâ€™ll look for that first one again tonight (Wednesday) in Kamloops. Vancouver is 4-1-0-1.
According to Gregg Drinnan of the Kamloops Daily News, the Lethbridge-Vancouver game featured 175 penalty minutes and the refs had their hands full with one line brawl and several post-whistle scrums.
Windsor Spitfires 6 @ Owen Sound Attack 3
C Richard Panik, WSR: 0-0-0, E, 2 PIM (roughing)
Season Totals: 3 GP, 2-0-2, +1, 2 PIM
Panik had two goals in his opener, but has no points in two games since.
Lethbridge Hurricanes 2 @ Swift Current Broncos 7
RW Carter Ashton, LET: 0-0-0, -5, 2 PIM (hooking)
Not the return to the WHL Lightning first rounder Carter Ashton was hoping for.
Damian Crisdotero of the St. Pete Times is reporting that in addition to the waiver move made with Radek Smolenak last night, the club has returned 2009 first round pick Carter Ashton to Lethbridge of the WHL after an impressive first camp with the team.
Crisdotero points out something interesting regarding Smolenak's waiver claim: the Blackhawks start the season in Finland this year and are in a situation similar to the Lightning last season when they started in Prague, Czech Republic. The Hawks have a handful of nicked up forwards and therefore are likely to carry a few spare players on the roster that won't be on the team after it returns to North America. If the Hawks waive Smolenak after they come back to the states, the Lightning will get first right to reclaim Smolenak. So, the Lightning may get the benefit of Smolenak getting a handful of NHL games worth of experience and retaining his services to boot.
The Lightning are expected to make more cuts tomorrow, presumably with a view toward leaving the bulk of the Admirals' roster in Norfolk before leaving town to continue their preseason slate.