The selection left many asking: who? At that point in the draft, many decent prospects were still available. Powerful defenseman Brandon Carlo was on the board, the agile goalie Mackenzie Blackwood would have filled a hole and the speedy Daniel Sprong would have been a solid addition.
However, Aho quickly developed into one of the better players in the Finnish Elite League, finishing with 45 points in 45 games, while playing on the best line at the 2016 World Junior Championships with Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. He was quickly penciled into the Hurricanes’ lineup for the fall and received high praise from both general manager Ron Francis and head coach Bill Peters.
Fast forward 25 games in to the 2016-17 season and we have arrived at a peculiar crossroads with Aho. He has recorded 3 goals and 11 assists, but just one goal and one assist in nearly a month of games. He ranks third on the team in scoring, second in shots and generates many chances offensively.
Since a two goal and three point outburst on November 12 against the Capitals, Aho has two points. Teams have had time to study film on Aho and have successfully neutralized him regularly over the past month. Aho is still less than two months into his North American hockey career, and while the talent is obviously there, the results have been lacking lately.
But would it be wise to send him to Charlotte to develop for a stretch of games? He is still a very young forward with a lot of promise. The NHL can be overwhelming for a teenager and at times, especially recently, it seems that’s been the case with Aho. There is often times where Aho’s play is reminiscent of a former Hurricane, Alexander Semin: occasionally brilliant offensive play followed by spurts of looking lost and not being defensively responsible.
The crossroads at which Aho and the team are at is one that’s hard to manage. The team is struggling to put the puck in the net, and needs every forward possible to contribute, especially as players like Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm are currently sidelined with injuries. However, the team must keep the future in mind as the present is very uncertain. The team is not currently in a playoff spot and the hopes of making the playoffs this season grow dimmer with every loss.
Under former general manager Jim Rutherford, the Hurricanes had the tendency to rush players into the NHL and not let them develop properly. Francis himself has admitted that the team rushed Lindholm to the NHL and that adversely affected his development as a player. The current regime can afford to be patient and have stated that it’s their intention to do so.
Sending Aho to Charlotte would continue down this road. Even Noah Hanifin was a healthy scratch for a couple of games last season while he got up to NHL speed, and in his rookie year Justin Faulk spent twelve games in Charlotte adapting to the speed and intensity of professional hockey. Aho’s biggest asset is his scoring ability, and putting pucks in the net regularly—no matter what league he’s doing it in—would do wonders for his confidence.
You make the call: should the Canes keep Aho in Raleigh or send him to Charlotte for some refining?