Last night, Sebastian Aho broke in on Sabres goalie Anders Nilsson for his shootout attempt. The result was Nilsson ending up about three feet to the left of where Aho ultimately slid the puck in behind to the net.
That shootout tally wound up being the difference maker, as the Hurricanes prevailed 2-1 in the shootout last night. Head coach Bill Peters’ obvious willingness to put Aho in such a significant spot in the shootout illustrates the degree to which the 19-year-old forward has earned the trust of his new coaching staff.
It’s been an extremely quick process.
Production Levels in Good Company
Aho’s production levels have been about as good as the Hurricanes could have hoped heading into the season. By the most basic of measures, raw points, Aho ranks 7th among all NHL rookies with 16 in 31 games. He trails Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Zach Werenski, and Jimmy Vesey.
In raw even-strength points, Aho’s 11 trail only Laine, Matthews, Marner, Travis Konecny, Matthew Tkachuk among rookie forwards. His ESP per 60 minutes of 1.66 is very solid as well, as it ranks him 122nd in the league out of the 342 forwards who have played at least 200 minutes at 5-on-5 so far this season.
There’s reason to believe that his goalscoring will increase as well. Aho’s 1.01 individual expected goals per 60 minutes trails just Matthews, Marner, and Artturi Lehkonen among his peers.
Elite Advanced Numbers
According to corsica.hockey, among all 31 rookie forwards under the age of 24 (min. 200 TOI), Aho ranks 2nd in CF% (56.45). behind only Kevin Fiala of the Nashville Predators. His expected goals share of 58.28% ranks second once again, again only trailing Fiala’s mark of 58.44%.
When it comes to his share of scoring chances, he actually surpasses Fiala in that department and ranks first out of all 31 with a dominant 60.2%. No player comes within 2.5 percentage points of that number.
When it comes to the defensive side of the puck, Aho is tied for the lead with Fiala in expected goals against per 60 minutes at 1.92.
Aho’s penalty differential is highly encouraging as well, as he’s drawn seven more penalties than he’s taken. We know that the Hurricanes special teams units have been fantastic, but having as many players as possible who draw more penalties than they take will serve wonderfully in maximizing the advantage that Carolina’s special teams give them.
So while Aho may not be generating the Calder buzz that the likes of Laine, Matthews, and Marner have been ever since the season began, that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been just as impressive, albeit in different ways.
In fact, the way in which Aho has impressed is arguably what you’re more concerned with seeing out of players of that age. The eye test is useful in telling us that Aho has offensive skill out the ears. His shootout goal last night was an example of that. We’ve seen him make plenty of skill plays at game speed as well.
But how many players have there been who have shown skill as youngsters that have been unable to stick around in the league because they haven’t been able to consistently drive play or hack it in their own end? Too many to count really, and with the early returns on Aho’s game this season, there’s plenty of reason to believe that that will not be his fate.