Photo Credit: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press: Edit Cory Hergott

Ashton Sautner Played 17 NHL Games this Season: What Did It Take For Him To Get To That Point?

At the start of this hockey season, I had the privilege of being granted access to speak with a handful of Utica Comets players at Vancouver Canucks training camp in Whistler BC. It was a huge opportunity for me to introduce myself to a few members of our local media, while also being able to ask some questions of a few players that I was hoping to see suit up for the parent Canucks this season.

During that time in Whistler, I asked to speak with Ashton Sautner, Guillaume Brisebois, Thatcher Demko, Zack MacEwen, and Jagger Dirk. I was intrigued by Dirk and thought he might see a good deal of time with the Comets this season as a rookie. All of the first four saw games with the Canucks this season with Brisebois and MacEwen both making their NHL debuts. Dirk, for his part, only saw nine games with the Comets, picking up one helper along the way.

When I spoke with Sautner at camp, he was very articulate with his answers and helped make my one of my first experiences with interviewing a pro player an enjoyable one. I have included a link to that interview below.

2018 Training Camp, Day One: Part Three, Guillaume Brisebois And Ashton Sautner

When I was granted access to speak with Sautner again at the end of this season, I jumped on it. Big thanks to Alfred with the Vancouver Canucks for making that happen for me. I would also like to thank Ashton for taking the time to talk with me again and for remembering who I was from our talk at training camp.

So, what did Ashton and I talk about? Let’s dig in, shall we?

In our interview at camp, Sautner spoke about how during his exit meeting with the Comets staff last year, they had asked him to up his physical game/edge for the 2018/19 season. I reminded Ashton about that and asked what he did in the offseason in order to take that step. His improved level of physicality was pretty noticeable from the get-go this season, to my eye.

“You know, I’ve been asked that and have had people say that it looks like I’ve upped my physical game and that I’m playing with more edge. To be honest, when I was in junior as a 19/20-year-old, just the older that I got in the league, you know, you develop more and at that time I was playing against younger guys, some of them were 16-years-old. I think it was a similar thing with my transition to pro. The first two years, you know, I was pretty light. I definitely needed to put on some weight coming out of junior.

I had some really long years of junior where, you know, my body got a little worn down and I had short summers to train. So I was kind of a little bit behind the eight-ball that way. After my first two years of pro, I really dug in and got a great trainer back in Kindersley.

For me, it was a matter of really putting on weight. To be able to play that style of game, I’ve always, you know, thought that I could do that, but once I put on some weight, now that I’m up around 200-pounds, it’s a little easier.

You realize that when you’re playing against men, that having that extra 15, almost 20 pounds makes a big difference.”

My next question for Sautner was based on the fact that he was now 22 games into his NHL career and that to my eye, he hadn’t looked out of place at this level. I asked him what the coaching staff in Utica has been doing to prepare him for that jump to the NHL from the AHL.

“I don’t know…well, I do know, actually. They have a simple recipe. They have a great coaching staff down there. All the resourses are right there for us as players, whether it’s in the summer when we are training, on the ice during the season, after practice or before practice.

There’s a number of times that Glennie, (Glenn Carnegie) the skills cosach from Vancouver, comes to Utica to work with just the defencemen alone. So, as a player, when you have these things at your disposal, you try to take advantage of them as best as you can.

My first two years in Utica, obviously I had Travis, (Green) and Nolan, (Baumgartner) so I’m familiar with those two. When they moved up to Van, you know, Trent, (Cull) and Gary, (Agnew) came in and Jason, (King) was already there from the year before, so it was just a matter of getting the feel for it, you know, what those guys want in their style of play.

As far as coaches, they’ve done a great job. Gary Agnew especially, for me has been great. He’s very experienced, he’s been in hockey for a very long time. He has a lot of little pointers here and there that, you know, you might never think of yourself. A guy like him who’s been around the game for so long can point those things out to you. I think he’s been great for me.

Trent has been really good for me. Trent, you know, when he played, he was kind of a hard nosed style of player and he wants his players to compete hard and play that same way and you know, I think that I’ve just thrived under them and obviously I’m up here trying to make the most of it and continue playing that same way.”

I had noticed during his games with the Comets this season and even more so with the Canucks that Ashton’s skating looked like it had a bit more jump to it. I told him that though I had always thought his skating was one of his strong suits, that he just looked like he had a little more quickness this season. I asked if there was something that he did this offseason that helped with that.

“I think that comes with development. You know, as a player, you learn different things as you go along. Whether it’s things that you can tweak in your summer training or things that you want to improve on, you can really focus on those areas.

Like I said, with my trainer back home in Saskatchewan, we’ve been together for a few years now and that’s something that we’ve tried to focus on. At first, it was about putting on some weight and bulking up. Once you get that size, you know, it’s important to keep your speed and agility with that extra weight. So, last summer, that was more of a focus, to get back to the basics of being quicker. Whether it’s ladder drills, or track work or whatever it is.

When you are able to add the extra weight that I have and maintain it, but also still have skating as one of your strong suits, you know, it’s something that I have to use to my advantage for sure. I think that I did that.”

Something that Sautner mentioned earlier in the interview piqued my interest, so I circled back to it. He had talked about resources being available to players in the Canucks system, so I wanted to know if there were any differences between what is available to him in Vancouver vs what he has access to in Utica.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

“Honestly, you know, they are in communication every day. So, if a player needs something down in Utica, or up here, they can get it.

Utica has been a great place for me. You know, it’s a hockey town in Upstate New York and I was born in Flin Flon, Manitoba, which to me is very similar. A small community like that, that has a hockey team and they rally around it. It’s incredible the support that you get when you’re a player there.

It all goes hand-in-hand, I mean, you play well and you try to win and play hard for your fans and in return, they come out and support you like that.

So, I think as a whole organization, whatever you need, like I say, whether it is during your summer training or during the season on the ice, a lot of things are there for you, so I think that it’s important as players to take advantage of that and use it to your advantage, for sure.”

My last question for Ashton was about his biggest adjustment from the AHL to the NHL.

“The speed, size, and strength of guys. It’s another step. I think that for me, the first few games this year, it was a matter of getting back to that NHL speed and style of game, (Sautner played in five games with the Canucks at the end of last season). There were some nights when I was playing close to 20 minutes, so when you’re playing that much you’re really into the game and you can kind of grow your game on the fly.

It’s been really good. I think that each game that I’ve played, I’ve been able to, you know, just kind of get more comfortable and for me, that is something that is always to my advantage, when I get more confident and comfortable as games go on.

It’s all part of the process and I get that too. So its been a great experience, I’ve played 17 games this year and I feel like I’m a better player than when I got here. I continue to work on things and continue to grow my game.”

I feel like Ashton has given us a bit of a glimpse into how his development process has gone since joining the Canucks organization as an undrafted defenceman out of the Edmonton Oil Kings organization.

Sautner has spent parts of four seasons with the Utica Comets and has shown steady improvement in his time with the club. He has shown the ability to translate his AHL game to the NHL level and still look like the same player, rather than one who is in over his head. The player has absorbed coaching and is consistently putting in the work required of him to take the next step.

I look at Sautner as a nice success story to this point and hope to see him continue to grow his game at the NHL level next season. The defender needed to clear waivers to get to Utica at the start of this season and thankfully, he cleared. I am not so sure that he will clear next time around if the Canucks try to get him to Utica next year.

I feel that Sautner will likely start with the Canucks out of camp next season as Olli Juolvei might need to spend the start of the season in Utica getting his surgically repaired knee back up to speed. If that is indeed the case, I look forward to seeing what another summer of offseason training will do for Sautner’s game now that he has another 17 games of NHL experience to use as a measuring stick.

Advertisement - Continue Commenting Below

Speaking with Ashton Sautner was an absolute treat. He was engaging and gave genuine, sincere answers to my questions. Big thanks to Ashton for taking the time to talk with me and to the Canucks organization for giving me that access. I hope to write more of these types of articles in the future and truly appreciate it when the team grants me the opportunity to do so.




  • Beer Can Boyd

    Green has shown his preference for puck moving d-men, but watching Schenn bring his steady, physical game to Vancouver (he turned out to be exactly the player that Gudbranson was supposed to be), shows the merits of that style. Better a guy like that than Pouliot, who kept watching his mistakes end up in the Canucks net.

    • Tedchinook

      The other thing I unnoticed about Schenn as opposed to Gudbranson is that he may not rush the puck, but he does make a good first pass to exit the D zone.

      • Rodeobill

        Yeah, Guddy had this kinda “now what do I do?” or “here, you take it” approach to handling the puck in his own zone, whereas Schenn seems much more confident with the puck and aware of developing situations. He will never be our first pairing, but since his pick up he has never seemed less than competent.

  • Killer Marmot

    Given the experiences with Dahlen and Palmu, there were some fears that Utica was not a good place for player development. This interview would seem to allay some of those fears, although Sautner did not lack for ice time as Palmu may have.

    • canuckfan

      Everyone loves the small guy trying to over come the height disadvantage to make the big league. Palmu isn’t the player everyone thinks he is just a good personality and may have come to the realization that he won’t be able to make the big leagues in North America. Hope he can but just doesn’t have the talent.

    • Beer Can Boyd

      Dahlen has repeatedly been a healthy scratch for the San Jose farm team, which perhaps sheds a new light on his situation in Utica. Palmu is a 5’5″ player who was picked 181st overall. In other words, an extreme long shot to ever make the NHL. The histrionics on this page over those 2 players has been ridiculous. Cull did a good job there this year, despite a ridiculous amount on injuries and call ups.

      • Someone on HFBoards posted on Saturday to confirm that Dahlen is still injured so he’s not a healthy scratch. He was in the line-up for 7 straight games after the trade but has been injured for about a month now.

    • Sautner had 3 years of experience in Utica compared to Palmu so I’m not surprised that Sautner got more ice-time. Perhaps Palmu and Dahlen really did develop an inflated ego and sense of entitlement after winning acolades (e.g. rookie of the year, MVP respectively) back in their home countries in the previous year. Such a contrast to Sautner who was undrafted and had to slog it out for a few years in the AHL before getting his call-ups.

  • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

    In other news, Tyler Madden apparently decided today to go back to school next year.

    Perhaps he can read the tea leaves regarding the “development” taking place in Utica (or non-development if you like), or perhaps he just prefers more education.

    • Killer Marmot

      Or perhaps he thinks he’s getting great coaching at Northeastern — one of the top collegiate programs anywhere — and figures at 150 lbs he’s not ready for the pros.

    • Bud Poile

      Tyler is 150 lbs..Returning to school has nothing to do with your negative perceptions of Utica:
      “He had a good year, but still needs to get physically stronger,” Canucks GM Jim Benning told Postmedia’s Ben Kuzma of the 5-foot-11, 150 pound Deerfield Beach, Fla. native.

      • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

        2018 Offseason – Jim Benning on Canucks defence amidst widespread calls that “this team cannot return the same dcorps”:

        “I like our defence” Full stop.

        Returning to school could be for a wide variety of reasons. I listed two, of many.

        You really used a Benning quote to back up your argument. That’s impressive and sad all at the same time.

        Regardless, good for the kid ultimately staying away from Utica IMO.

  • Locust

    Great job Cory. This is the kind of post we want more of. Interesting, well written and informative. Some of the other writers here should take note of ‘what’ works and ‘what’ doesn’t….

  • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

    Killer Marmot re:
    “The biggest concern is that if Benning is operating under that mindset, it might lead to some suboptimal decision making.”

    I see nothing in Benning’s track record (I actually see lots, but will simply not acknowledge any of it unless someone points it out, then i’m screwed unless they fall for my constant deflection) that would indicate he would start trading away youth for veterans, so I recommend you not make a mountain out of a molehill.

    Chris the Curmudgeon reply:
    McCann and picks for Gudbranson is one clear counterexample.

    Killer Marmot reply:
    It’s the only serious counter example I could find as well (It isn’t, but hopefully he doesn’t persist!), although Gudbranson was 24 at the time, and the word “veteran” didn’t apply (because this makes sense in my head?)

    Chris the Curmudgeon reply:
    Only 24, but 5 years into his pro career and definitely into “is what he is” territory. There were a bunch of other trades where he traded a younger player for an older one (Subban for Dowd, Shinkaruk for Granlund, Jensen for Etem, Forsling for Clendening), but none of those apart from Dowd was really to acquire a “veteran” and Subban was clearly a stalled prospect at the time, not a prime asset, and Forsling the only player we might miss from that list. I hated, and still hate, the Kassian for Prust trade, but accept that it was not really made with on-ice considerations first and foremost (that the team thought it was preferable to dump Zack on someone else rather than supporting him through his personal issues is a separate point).

    Killer Marmot reply:
    The quality of the Gudbranson trade isn’t the issue in this thread (utterly laughable).

    Subban for Dowd, Shinkaruk for Granlund, Jensen for Etem, Forsling for Clendening

    With the exception of the first trade (a fringe player for a prospect with no real prospect), these players were all roughly the same age, and were not exchanging youth for experience.

    At the time of each trade:

    Nic Dowd (age 27) – 91 NHL games EXP, 140 AHL games EXP
    Malcolm Subban (age 22) – 0 NHL games EXP, 148 AHL games EXP

    Markus Granlund (age 22) – 86 NHL games EXP, 88 AHL games EXP
    Hunter Shinkaruk (age 21) – 1 NHL game EXP, 119 AHL games EXP

    Emerson Etem (age 23) – 131 NHL games EXP, 119 AHL games EXP
    Nicklas Jensen (age 22) – 24 NHL games EXP, 166 AHL games EXP

    Adam Clendening (age 22) – 4 NHL games EXP, 185 AHL games EXP
    Gustav Forsling (age 18) – 0 NHL games EXP, 0 AHL games EXP

    “these players were all roughly the same age, and were not exchanging youth for experience.”

    Yeah, sure they weren’t trading youth for professional experience.

    Dude, your arguments have more holes than swiss cheese.

    • Killer Marmot

      What the hell do you think you’re doing? Printing excerpts — not even the full comments — from a discussion from another site? What do you expect to achieve from that?

      I rarely call others names, you are an ass of the first order.

  • crofton

    I like Sautner’s take on the much (unfairly, I believe) maligned coaching staff in Utica. It’s really at odds with the speculation about Dahlen and Palmu. And I believe it is just that, speculation.

  • Kevlar73

    I was very happy with how both Sautner and Brisbois performed in their call ups this year. Hopefully both have a good offseason and we might start having some depth that can stay afloat when called up

  • Kanuckhotep

    It seems odd that the Canucks have had a distinct history of having reasonable 4th, 5th and 6th type defencemen in their line ups. Sautner, Schenn, the Bulldog as examples are all reliable lower pairing guys who can play such as they are. Somehow back in the day Kearns and Snepsts were here forever and weren’t Denis Potvins. what I’m saying is if they were as fortunate with high level D drafts as they have been with lower level blue liners the history of the Vancouver Canucks would probably see much more success in terms of, dare I say, Stanley Cups.

    • Bud Poile

      Benning has been the exception with Hughes and Juolevi taken as his top ten picks in two of the last three drafts.
      Prior to Benning’s regime (and excluding the tragic exception of Luc Bourdon) the Canucks .org had not drafted a d-man in the top ten since Bryan Allen was taken in 1998.
      Benning’s regime have drafted three d-men in four of the last five drafts.