Ashton Sautner enters the conversation in our consensus rankings of the organization’s prospect pool as the 19th best among them.
Though Sautner ranked as highly as 14th in our mid-season rankings, the bevvy of prospects added through the draft and continued development of established members have necessitated a slight drop.
I’d caution against reacting too strongly to Sautner’s slight step backwards. Sautner genuinely had a good season as a rookie in the AHL.
Similar to the prospect that preceded his ranking, Michael Carcone, Sautner himself was an undrafted free agent, though the Canucks signed him in the midst of the 2014-15 season. Sautner’s stock has only risen since and he appears to be a relatively good gamble to buck the trend as an undrafted player and develop into a serviceable player going forward. A development we maybe should have foreseen, given the former Canucks Army Managing Editor Rhys Jessop’s excellent article detailing why Sautner was a worthwhile gamble.
Time will tell if Sautner can carve out an NHL career or develop into an AHL ‘tweener’, but we’ve every reason to believe the former is a realistic possibility given his first season in the AHL.
Playing in 50 games for the Utica Comets, Sautner tallied four goals and seven assists in a fairly sheltered role which saw him feature as part of a rotating cast in and out of the lineup until injuries facilitated a much larger role. As he stepped into a larger role, Sautner’s play began to develop and round into form down the stretch.
The left-handed defenceman ended the season with a 47.3% GF%, just ahead of John Negrin and Travis Ehrhardt. Negrin was re-signed by the Comets, while it appears that Ehrhardt was not retained.
If there is one concern to keep note of, he only posted one point in the final 12 games of the regular season, which followed 10 points in his first 38 contests. He will need to produce a little more consistently even to get a sniff at the next level.
Just shortly after Christmas, Sautner did see some time with the Canucks this past season, but it was merely a press box tour.
All of this follows an impressive junior career with the Edmonton Oil Kings which saw Sautner as the team’s captain during the 2014-15 season after capturing the Memorial Cup in 2013-14.
Sautner has never been the flashiest player, as evidenced by his modest boxcars, but can remain calm and composed with the puck while carrying it in transition. At some point, you’d like to see the offensive totals follow. That will go a long way in transitioning into an NHL defenceman.
There has been some turnover for the Comets with players like Taylor Fedun, Jon Landry and Travis Ehrhardt all moving on. But there will be some competition for ice time with Troy Stecher and Tom Nilsson joining the mix next season. It is also likely that one of Alex Biega or Andrey Pedan finds themselves in Utica.
It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out as Sautner has no guarantees of a full-time role with the Comets. One would like to think he’s done enough to earn his keep, but the possible emergence of Troy Stetcher, as one example, could threaten his playing time and subsequent development.
The time is now for Sautner to make a significant jump forward in his development. He’s entering the second year of a three-year entry-level contract and just turned 22-years-old. The numbers game threatens such an opportunity for next season, as an influx of graduating defencemen (a list which includes: Tate Olson, Guillaume Brisebois, Olli Juolevi and possibly Carl Neill) threaten to jeopardize that opportunity next season.
Sautner’s primary competition for an NHL call-up will be the aforementioned Stecher and Subban. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Tom Nillson thrusting himself into the mix, either. To Sautner’s credit, he plays the left side, contrary to his primary NHL competition. Not to mention, he plays an entirely different style.
When using pGPS to look at Sautner, an impressive 17.1% went onto becoming NHL regulars.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) November 5, 2015
Sautner is still young, but other factors are out of his control that will make this upcoming season crucial.
Without any further exploration, it’s clear that Sautner made positive strides this past season and looks to be a good find for the Canucks as an undrafted defenceman. However, he will need to make equal to or even bigger steps this season, or he may get left behind.
It will be an interesting season to watch.