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Photo Credit: Utica Comets

Ashton Sautner is primed to be the first captain of the Abbotsford Canucks and is the perfect leader for the young AHL team

“Ashton is such a good person, just a really good dude,” said Abbotsford Canucks’ head coach Trent Cull when asked about his veteran defenceman Ashton Sautner.

27-year-old Ashton Sautner is coming into his seventh season with the Vancouver Canucks’ organization. The former captain of the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL has played in 23 NHL games and 242 AHL games over the past six years.

Sautner has been the best two-way defenceman for the Utica Comets over the past couple of seasons. Last year was a tough one for him as he was on the Canucks’ taxi squad for almost the entirety of the season aside from a two-game loan to the Manitoba Moose.

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Having a true feeling of regularity is just what the doctor ordered for the defenceman.

“It feels great,” said Sautner. “Just to have simple things like a normal training camp again. We come in, get a normal training camp, preseason games, be around the great group of guys, it just feels normal again. I know there are still protocols and restrictions in place but just the excitement of knowing there’s going to be fans in the building, family and friends coming to watch again, it’s amazing.”

This past summer, Sautner had options on where he was going to wind up. For him, it was an easy decision to come to Abbotsford and join the coaching staff and management that has been so good to him over the past six years.

“I’ve known RJ from the time that I signed with the Canucks. He was a big part of me coming back this season. Then, having Trent [Cull] and Gary [Agnew] as my coaches for the last four years made it even easier. We all have a really good relationship and it just made things so much easier when you’re trying to decide where you want to play. It’s been a long time since I’ve played consistent hockey games. It’s been about a year and a half. Coming back to an organization that I’m familiar with and knowing that the team is moving to Abbotsford and having Trent, Gary, and RJ coming back — it just felt like it was the right fit for me.”

Sautner isn’t going to wow anyone when they peek at his EliteProspects page. He’s just one of the most solid defencemen in the AHL who comes in night in and night out and does his job well. He calms down a pairing and can play on both special teams units if needed.

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The extended time away from games whilst on the taxi squad gave him a chance to work on a lot of skills and he feels that though he is still the same type of defenceman, the added practice time and hours with different skills and skating coaches has helped him improve his overall game.

“It was tough but we were trying to make the best of the situation,” said Sautner. “Being a part of the taxi squad for the majority of the year, we don’t get that same game structure but there’s a lot of things we did that helped improve my game. I got to work on a lot of things wherein a normal year you’re playing lots of games and are always busy — you don’t necessarily get that chance to key in on little things. Obviously, it wasn’t ideal, a lot of things weren’t ideal for everybody but I tried to make the best of it and just focus even harder during the summer to continue to grow my game. After all the work, I’m just so excited about coming back. When I found out the opportunity was here in Abbotsford, I was really excited about that. I’m just excited to get back into a game. I cannot wait to play next Saturday in Bakersfield.”

During his time on the taxi squad, he spent a ton of time taking shots on Mikey DiPietro and hanging around with him away from the rink.

DiPietro will end up being the big star in Abbotsford this season. He looks like he has taken massive steps in his game after a long year that saw him get four games at the AHL level. Sautner knows how hard of a worker DiPietro is and knows how vital he will be for the Abbotsford Canucks’ success this coming season. On top of that, Sautner knows that the AHL isn’t the final destination for DiPietro and that he will be in Vancouver sooner than later.

“Mikey is huge for us, he’s a very talented goalie,” said Sautner. “I spent a lot of time with him on the taxi squad last season and he’s just as amazing off the ice. The thing that we forget is how young he still is. Vancouver Canucks fans should all be really excited about him on and off the ice. He’s an absolute rock back there. I think back to the year where we ended up getting shut down in 2019-20. He was so young, just in his first year as a professional and he came in and just took that net as the starter and ran with it. We are so excited to have him. We all know his goal is to continue to work here and get back to Vancouver as soon as possible.”

So, all this being said, it feels like an absolute home run to have Ashton Sautner be the first captain of the Abbotsford Canucks. The group in Abbotsford is going to be very young. There are still cuts to come and that will help bolster the top end of the team but even with those additions through Vancouver substraction, Sautner remains head and shoulders above the rest to captain this team. He has worn a letter for Cull in the past and the coach knows how important Sautner is to the room.

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“Sauts is a great example for young guys coming in,” said Cull when asked about how Sautner has evolved into a leader for him. “It’s just amazing to see how he interacts with his younger teammates, he’s evolved as a leader. I feel like Ashton was a part of but also learned from some really good leaders in Utica. He started that in his time during the Travis [Green] days and then my days with guys like Wacey Hamilton, Carter Bancks, or Jaime Sifers. These are really good people that were great for our team and Ashton learned a lot from them. I love that we have that carry over with him being here right now. I’m only talking about having 13 players right now but my god, I think if you’d put the combined age of this team together, it feels like it might be 20 or 21. It’s great to have Sauts as an older guy with a little bit of seasoning around him.”

As for Sautner, I wanted to press him a little bit about the captaincy. It just feels like a perfect fit for him to be the guy captaining this AHL team. I asked him what he thought about being named the first captain in the history of the Abbotsford Canucks.

He didn’t take the bait but instead gave a typical captain’s answer as I expected.

“I try not to worry about that,” said Sautner. “At the end of the day, it’s a coach’s decision. If I’m a guy they choose, it would be an honour. I wore a letter in Utica for the last couple of years and that was a good experience for me. I’ve had guys that have been great leaders in this league for a long time, I learned a lot from them. If it happens, it happens. It’ll be a good experience either away.”

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Even though he is only 27-years-old, he is looked at as one of the older guys on the Abbotsford Canucks. He’s been in and around the AHL since he was 20-years-old and has never looked out of place.

The idea of being the older guy has crept up on him.

“It’s weird, I mean that’s how fast time flies, right?” said Sautner as he chuckled about being called the old guy.

As a 28-year-old with a 21-year-old boss, I can see where he coming from.

“I started out young and we had great leaders like Wacey Hamilton, Carter Bancks and Richard Bachman,” said Sautner. “They were the older guys who were the leaders and as I progressed throughout my career I learned leadership qualities as time went by. Now, here I am as a quote-on-quote older guy and it’s exciting. We have some really exciting young players who have come in here and they’re highly, highly talented. I am excited for the cohesiveness of having some older veteran guys that will mesh well with the younger talented group.”

He’s bang on. After we see a few more players pass through waivers, the Abbotsford team is going to be a great mix of AHL-NHL tweeners and some youngster who were tweens just a few years ago.

The team will have a ton of skill but will need leaders like Sautner to keep them level-headed as the highs and lows of an AHL season pass. The AHL is so different because of call-ups and the veteran rule. It’s still a developmental league but every good AHL team needs some veterans like Sautner to keep the young guys on track to reaching their goal of playing in the NHL.

As for the coming season, Sautner is so excited to not only play games again but to do it in front of what is expected to be a wild Abbotsford fan base that should fill the arena on a nightly basis.

“We haven’t played in front of fans in long time and it’s an energy that we miss so much. Just to have that on top of coming into a new building, a new city and building a new fan base will be really exciting. I think we’re going to have a great team that is super-competitive and we’re going to give the Abbotsford fans something to cheer about here.”

In conclusion, Sautner just makes too much sense to be the captain of the Abbotsford Canucks. He’s got a long standing relationship with the organization, a strong bond with a coach who believes in him and as you can see from his quotes, he is a down to earth player who has learned how to lead at the AHL level.

Sautner is set to be one of the most consistent defenceman for the Abbotsford Canucks next season and he might as well have a “C” on his chest while he does it.