Sunday marked the final day of the Western Hockey League regular season, and maybe no NHL will take more interest in the WHL playoffs than the Tampa Bay Lightning. The second place team from the Southeast Division has two drafted players participating in this year’s playoffs — both of whom figure to play a prominent role in their respective team’s playoff runs.
Carter Ashton (RW, Tri-City Americans)
Since a mid-season trade from Regina to Tri-City, Ashton has 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) in 33 games. E.J. McGuire from Central Scouting credits Ashton’s “hockey smart” style of play to his father, former NHL player Brett Ashton, who played in just under 1,000 games in the league.
The 6-foot-3 200 pound forward projects as a power forward, modeling his game after Columbus Blue Jackets star Rick Nash. The highlight of Ashton’s season came in the IIHF World Junior Championships when he scored a goal for team Canada in the gold medal game against Russia (seen below).
Brett Connolly (RW, Prince George Cougars)
The 18-year-old forward scored two goals on Saturday night to help move his Cougars into seventh place in the Western Division. Taken sixth-overall in the 2010 draft, Connolly’s 46 goals this year rank third in the league. Injuries limited Connolly to just 16 games in 2009-10, but he has rebounded to the tune of 73 points in 59 games this year.