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I’ll be watching ex-Leaf Keith Aulie...

One trade this past season that I never quite understood was the deal that sent young Leaf rearguard Keith Aulie to the Tampa Bay Lightning in return for promising forward (and former first-round draft pick) Carter Ashton.

As I’ve stated here many times, I’m always loathe to trade away young defensemen at the best of times, but certainly those with size and even a modicum of skill are, in my (hockey) world, quite precious.

Nonetheless, once the former Tampa prospect arrived in Toronto, Burke and company shot young Ashton up the food chain and onto the Leaf roster soon after his arrival—though I’m not sure precisely what he did to “earn” (if the Leaf parlance of “every game is a try-out” is supposed to be a legitimate guideline) the right to jump the queue.  The only thing I’ve been able to figure out is that giving Ashton time with the big club gave Burke something to refer to as a "positive" after an otherwise un-inspiring trade deadline for the Leafs.

In any event, the Leafs presumably are of the view that Aulie had no future here, though he was actually (at the age of 21) a generally dependable defender last season who played alongside Dion Phaneuf a fair bit—and at times, was the more proficient of the two.  Somehow his stock dropped over the summer and at training camp, to the point where others by-passed him on the depth chart.  He was ultimately traded away.

Now about to turn 23 (this month), Aulie played for the Lightning a bit down the stretch this past season, averaging a little more than 11 minutes a night as a kind of 6th defensemen on the big club’s roster.  Where he fits there in future, I have no idea.

But he has played a lot with the AHL Admirals in the playoffs, and he is now one of the young players that Norfolk will rely on as they go head to head with the Marlies in the just underway AHL Calder Cup finals.

I recognize that many Marlie observers felt Aulie under-performed badly in his time with the Leaf farm team this past season.  I tend to chalk that up, at least in part, to his disappointment at being shuttled back to the minors after “making” the big club part-way through the 2010-’11 NHL season—and looking pretty good most nights. Whether he took things for granted or not (which seems to be the suggestion), that’s a big letdown for a young player. Not everyone handles that type of disappointment perfectly, at least not right away.

In any event, I’ll be watching him as closely as possible in the Calder Cup finals, to see how he is progressing as a young defensemen.  He’s a tall guy, and those kinds of players often take a while to find their game, consistently, at the highest levels.

As the series against the Marlies continues, we’ll get a chance to better see where Aulie and Ashton (just back from injury) both are in their ongoing development.  (Game 1 saw Ashton score the Marlies' only goal in a 3-1 loss.)  But I’m even more interested in seeing where they will both be in two or three years—and whether the Ashton deal will have been a good one for the Leafs in the long run, or not.


  1. Interesting news out of Boston.

    Goaltender Tim Thomas is "seriously considering" sitting out the 2012-13 season due to family reasons and the strain the last couple seasons have taken on the two-time Vezina Trophy winner and 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy honoree, according to general manager Peter Chiarelli.

    ...Thomas has a no-trade clause that's set to expire July 1, which has started speculation the Bruins might look to deal him with Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin forming a younger pairing that's seemingly ready to carry the load.

    Older veteran with a year left on his contract?...I like that for the Leafs.

    I wonder what they would want back... considering only a year left on contract.

  2. I Think Burke was thinking that since we had more depth at defence with Percy and blacker and Holzerzer up and coming then a player of a forward position with size and youth on his side would be a greater need for the team. D men do tend to take longer to develop as u mentioned. But I think Burke is very high on "former first rounders". He has not failed mention that every time it seems. The tlusty trade for paradise, gardiner, colburn and even when he signed Hanson and Bozak he said they were like free first rounders. Mind you some of the acquisitions were good but Burke does seem to put high value on where a player is drafted. Sorry if t off topic habit but I thought to mention that point. But we really won't know any time soon who panned out better in the trade. I'm hoping it is a win win for both teams as they acquire what they feel is a greater need for their team.

  3. I do wonder, DP, if this is about Thomas wanting time off, or deciding it's time to move away from the Bruins.

    We've touched on different possibilities here for the past few weeks when it comes to who the Leafs might be interested in. Thomas' name is one I have raised a few times, because I anticipated that the Bruins would be looking to deal him. This may lead to the same result.

    As for return they'd be looking for, it's hard to say. But they won't give away one of the best goalies in the league, even with only one year left on his contract.

  4. That's not off topic at all, blueandwhite. It's a good observation. Burke has done well bringing in former first-rounders, for sure (Gardiner, so far, being the cream of the crop...).

    And as you say, hopefully it will work out well for both organizations.

  5. It was odd seeing Aulie dealt as Burke & Co. were pretty high on him. The deal wasn't bad by any means. The Leafs had arguable 3 guys that could have earned spots this coming season in Holzer, Aulie, and Blacker. Blacker being the long shot but he still would have a legitimate shot.

    Leafs could use depth on forward.Ashton has the size to play in the NHL, has youth on his side. At the time of the trade he had 35 points for Norfolk in 56 games.

    I never did agree with Ashton getting called up to Leafs immediately after the trade and staying for so long after not performing.

    Here are some interesting facts from that 2009 drafts first round in regards to the Leafs.

    Nazem Kadri - Leafs, 7th overall
    Philippe Paradis - Canes, 27th overall acquired for Tlusty then traded for Versteeg which turned into Tyler Biggs and Stuart Percy
    Carter Ashton - 29th overall acquired for Aulie

    Leafs didn't do too bad

  6. You're right, Skill2Envy, the Leafs have other assets on the blue line, and that allowed them to move Aulie.

    They have picked up some prospects through the moves you mention. We're still a ways off from seeing how those trades will play out.