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Sebastian Aho’s Hot Start Answers Many Questions

The third-year Finn is off to the best start of his NHL career, and he’s doing it at the center position.

Jamie Kellner

One of the biggest question marks for the Carolina Hurricanes after Victor Rask’s injury ruled him out for an extended period of time was the depth down the middle - or, more specifically, the lack of depth - in this Hurricanes lineup. Coming of camp Jordan Staal was really the only tried-and-true NHL center on the active roster, and it’s been evident for years that overslotting Staal in a top line scoring role is counterproductive for both his offensive numbers and his (criminally underrated) defensive game.

The development or acquisition of a future top line center in Raleigh has long been comparable to Captain Ahab’s endless search for his white whale. Some thought that the sneaky second rounder Victor Rask would eventually grow into that coveted role. Many thought the Canes had addressed the future by selecting Elias Lindholm fifth overall in the 2013 NHL Draft. Neither of those picks grew into a player that can be considered a top line centerman. But Sebastian Aho’s meteoric rise may indicate that the Canes’ search is finally over.

With a helper in the loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday, Aho extended the point streak that he started on opening night to seven games. His hot start has been welcomed but unsurprising for those who have watched his development over the past few years in the NHL. But something that many of us didn’t expect was his seamless transition from the wing to the center position after struggling there in preseason play.

Just how good has Aho been? Well, his 12 points (4g, 8a) has him sitting in fourth place in the scoring race, just four points behind the prolific Auston Matthews. I’d say that’s a pretty good start to the season for a 21-year-old who has historically needed time to heat up in October.

Furthermore, he’s elevated his linemates, Micheal Ferland and Teuvo Teravainen, to point-per-game status, and Ferland is off to the biggest start of his NHL career. This is something that doesn’t get talked about enough when assessing a scoring centerman. Aho has been able to use his presence and speed on the ice to open up opportunities for Teravainen and Ferland.

But the most impressive thing about Aho’s hot start is his ability to garner the Triangle area some national media attention. The league is finally taking notice of the young Finn. A seven game sample size is much too small to uncover anything too meaningful from his underlying metrics, but his hot 12-point start has him on pace to shatter his 65-point career high last season. Sustained scoring at or close to his current pace would certainly have him in the conversation as an elite center in the NHL today.

At Hurricanes media day in September, Justin Williams was asked about Aho and where he felt like the exciting youngster’s ceiling was as a player. Visibly agitated, he said, “I hate talking about ceilings for people,” and went on to say that Aho really has no ceiling as a player. It’s beginning to look like the captain was right.