Early in the offseason, the Maple Leafs picked up Adam Gaudette and Nicolas Aube-Kubel. Now they’ve invited Zach Aston-Reese to training camp on a PTO. Given what he know about Aston-Reese’s skillset, you’d have to think he’ll make the team.
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Since Aston-Reese Signed His PTO, Everyone Has Been Lauding His Defense
When the news that Aston-Reese had signed a PTO, there were some upbeat Maple Leafs’ fans. However, it wasn’t at all about his scoring ability. Instead, it was about his defense.
And that makes perfect sense. In the 230 NHL games Aston-Reese has played, he’s only scored 32 goals and added 34 assists (for 66 points).
Scoring was just something he hasn’t sought to do at the NHL level. Instead, he’s accepted the job of working to keep the puck out of his own team’s goal. To do that, Aston-Reese has become a force as a forechecker. He’s a left-winger who had 231 hits in 69 games he played last season, playing under 14 minutes each game. That ranked 11th for all NHL forwards. No one on the Maple Leafs came close to that.
In short, Aston-Reese has become one of the NHL’s best defensive forwards and one of the league’s best fore-checkers and back-checkers. To achieve that status, he’s relied on his great skating ability and his willingness to engage in physical play.
However, because he hasn’t scored doesn’t mean he can’t score or he didn’t score before he came to the NHL. I was surprised to look back just to see what Aston-Reese was before he was such a great defensive player. In truth, he was a scorer – and a top one on his NCAA team at that.
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Aston-Reese and Gaudette Used to Be Teammates
What’s so interesting is that Gaudette and Aston-Reese played together in Boston, Massachusetts, at Northeastern University for two NCAA seasons. In fact, as I noted, although Aston-Reese is reputed to be a defense-first forward who’s a great checker, it wasn’t always that way.
Although given their status as bottom-six depth players, at Northeastern it was quite different. Aston-Reese was the highest scorer on the team for the 2016-17 season with 31 goals and 32 assists (for 63 points) in 38 games. Gaudette was the third-highest scorer that season with 26 goals and 26 assists (for 52 points) in 37 games.
The next season, Gaudette, as a 21-year-old junior, led the entire NCAA with 60 points (30 goals, 30 assists) in 38 games that season. He was named the Hobey Baker Award winner as the NCAA’s best player.
Whether Aston-Reese Scores or Not, He Might Yet Become a Valuable Member of the Maple Leafs’ Roster
Interesting that Aston-Reese used to be a big scorer at Northeastern University when he played with Gaudette. Also interesting that the two forwards might once again pair up six seasons later hoping to become – with Aube-Kubel – a reliable fourth line for the Maple Leafs.
Some things stay the same; some things change.
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