Ashton giving Marlies some much needed offence, Goaltender Gibson pushing himself up the depth chart

Carter Ashton has four goals in four games since being demoted to the Marlies on Dec. 14- Image Courtesy of Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI

December 22, 2013

TORONTO– Carter Ashton is making the best of his recent demotion to the Toronto Marlies.

The 22-year-old, who has bounced up and down with the Maple Leafs this season, has produced four goals and five points in four games since being demoted on Dec. 14, including a two-goal performance against the Charlotte Checkers on Saturday.

“What can you say about Carter Ashton, he’s been great since he’s been back here,” said Marlies head coach Steve Spott.

In eight games this season with the AHL club, Ashton has emerged from just being a bottom-six power forward to a dependable top-line winger. He has scored seven times and recorded 10 points, but more importantly has found chemistry alongside prospect centremen Greg McKegg, who returned to Toronto’s lineup on Dec. 18 after missing six games with an upper-body injury.

In Saturday’s 5-2 victory over the Checkers the two combined for three goals and six points and were plus-7.

“We’ve been lucky with the (John-Michael) Liles, (Korbinian) Holzers, the Ashtons and (Troy) Bodies, guys who have been up and down,” said Spott. “For Carter, the way he came down, just positiive.”

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Ashton is a much needed addition for the Marlies, whose top-six has lacked a scoring touch all season. Injuries have kept McKegg, and most recently Spencer Abbott, from the lineup and Josh Leivo has been inconsistent, leading to two healthy scratches in the last two weeks.

Ashton is in his third full season of AHL competition and, despite being given opportunities under Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, the Winnipeg native has had difficulty succeeding at the NHL level. His last demotion was to create room for winger Troy Bodie, who was summoned by the Leafs on the same day Ashton was sent down.

Along with Nazem Kadri and Peter Holland, Ashton is one of three first-round picks the Leafs have in their system from the 2009 NHL draft.

Goaltender Christopher Gibson is giving fellow prospect Garret Sparks some competition when it comes to depth in net for the Maple Leafs.

In late November the Marlies made the decision to send Sparks to the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears and bring up Gibson. At the time of the move Sparks was 0-3-0 with a 4.10 goals-against average and .848 save percentage playing the back-up role behind veteran Drew MacIntyre.

While the move was ultimately made to get Sparks more game action and give Gibson a taste of the AHL, Gibson has responded by outplaying Sparks with three positive performances in his three starts with Toronto.

The Karkkila, Finland native has gone 2-1-0 with a 1.68 goals-against average and .946 save percentage and was the Marlies biggest reason for a 3-1 victory over the Checkers on Friday in the first of back-to-back contests in Charlotte.

Gibson turned away 32-of-33 shots and was named the game’s first star.

“We’re excited about his future,” Spott told LeafsTV post game.

Sparks and Gibson, both 20-years-old, were each selected in the 2011 NHL draft. Sparks was taken in the seventh round by the Leafs while Gibson was picked in the second round by the LA Kings. After the Kings and Gibson failed to reach an agreement on a contract, the Leafs signed him this past summer.

Sparks, who is a resident of Elmhurst, Illinois, is 4-4-0 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .925 save percentage with the Solar Bears.

KYLE CICERELLA

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