The Toronto Maple Leafs managed to move out a body on deadline day, but rather than a veteran, it was a youngster that now has a new home.
Leafs GM Brian Burke sent defenceman Keith Aulie to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday in exchange for winger Carter Ashton, a 20-year-old prospect who was taken 29th overall in 2009.
Aulie was behind Carl Gunnarsson, John-Michael Liles and Jake Gardiner on the left side on the Leafs blueline, and the other three weren't going anywhere.
It makes sense that he was the one to go, especially considering he had not played very well in his time in the NHL. (Aulie ranked last on the team in several key advanced statistics.)
Aulie was considered by Burke to be a key piece in the trade that brought he and captain Dion Phaneuf from the Calgary Flames in January of 2010.
"Obviously I didn't expect this," Aulie told TSN. "I'm pretty shocked still. I just got off the phone with [Lightning GM] Steve Yzerman and he said he's been interested in me for a while and is happy to have me.
"There was lots of competition here [in Toronto] all year and it made a lot of stress at times. Going down there, knowing there's some opportunity down there, I'll kind of make the best of that... Maybe this is a blessing in disguise going down there."
Ashton is the son of long-time NHLer Brent Ashton, who played 998 games with nine different NHL teams between 1979 and 1993, and was a member of Team Canada at the 2011 world juniors.
He's big at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, and had a couple 30 goal seasons at the WHL level, but remains a bit of a project. In his first full pro season, he has 19 goals and 35 points in 56 games with Tampa's AHL affiliate and is likely to start with the Toronto Marlies.
At this point, it's a gamble that either Aulie or Ashton are going to be meaningful contributers at the NHL level, and it makes sense for the Leafs to shift out a body on the blueline for potential help up front.
Like most late first-round picks, Ashton's game has some deficiencies – mainly in his own end – and the scouting reports all consider him as "somewhat raw." He skates well and has good speed but needs to work on lower body strength. He doesn't mind being physical and can even be a little chippy.
That said, he also shoots the puck well and is still very young. I recall that the reports coming out of his pro training camps were pretty favourable, so it's not as if he can't compete at the pro level. He probably only projects as a potential third-liner at this point.
For now, that means added forward depth on the Marlies, who already have one of the higher scoring teams in the minors.
Later in the day, Burke ended his day by adding another body on the blueline, bringing in Mark Fraser to fill Aulie's spot in the AHL in exchange for ECHLer Dale Mitchell.
Fraser, 25, has some NHL experience (98 games) and is on a one-way contract, which is likely the reason the Anaheim Ducks were willing to move him for nothing. If injuries hit, he could see some time with the Leafs at some point.