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William Nylander’s contract a benchmark for Hurricanes as they negotiate Sebastian Aho extension

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Nylander’s contract sets the market for Aho’s impending long-term extension.

Jamie Kellner

4:57 pm EST on Saturday marked the end of an unbearable soap opera.

With just a few minutes to spare before the RFA signing deadline, William Nylander put pen to paper on a six year, $6.9 million AAV contract extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While the contract was nice for both the Leafs and their young star, it also served as an important precedent for many of the other 30 NHL teams and their young players.

“Several restricted free agents have made it clear or agreed with their teams they’ll wait until after the season to talk contract,” Elliotte Friedman wrote in 31 Thoughts on November 21. “At last week’s GM meetings in Toronto, some of the managers said they feel others are waiting to see if William Nylander sets the market over the next 10 days before doing anything.”

Enter Sebastian Aho - the young star that the Carolina Hurricanes are determined to build their franchise around for the next decade.

The 21-year-old out of Finland is enjoying an exceptional start to his third season in the NHL, carrying a point-per-game pace through the first 26 games of the season. Of course, his great start wasn’t unanticipated after his torrent second half last season, wherein he scored 22 goals and posted 42 points in the final 44 games of the 2017-18 campaign.

On the final year of his entry-level contract, Aho is in line to become a very wealthy young man. He is scheduled to be a restricted free agent and, like Nylander, he will get not only a lot of money, but a lot of term to go with it.

How comparable are Aho and Nylander, though? Well, the short answer is “very”.

Entering Sunday night’s game in Los Angeles, Aho and Nylander had both played in 185 total NHL games across three seasons. The numbers are eerily similar.

William Nylander vs. Sebastian Aho

Player Age Games Played Goals Assists Points SOG/60 5-on-5 Points 5-on-5 P/60 5-on-5 P1/60 5-on-5 CF%
Player Age Games Played Goals Assists Points SOG/60 5-on-5 Points 5-on-5 P/60 5-on-5 P1/60 5-on-5 CF%
William Nylander 22 185 48 87 135 8.6 82 2 1.49 51.41
Sebastian Aho 21 185 60 80 140 8.9 82 1.9 1.51 54.31

You’re going to have a tough time finding two players who are more comparable than Nylander and Aho. The numbers paint a pretty clear picture.

Like we already knew, Nylander classifies closer to a “playmaker” than Aho, but Aho has a track record of scoring more goals. Despite that, their production is almost identical in terms of sheer point totals.

Another similarity between them is that they have both moved back and forth from wing and center. To this point, though, Nylander has played much more in the middle than Aho has.

Admittedly, face-off numbers are an awful way to evaluate a center or to see how often a player is slotted as a center. That said, Nylander has taken 1,063 faceoffs in his 185 NHL games played, as opposed to just 537 taken by Aho in the same number of games.

The reason for that is Nylander’s early exposure to the center position. Aho’s transition to the middle really didn’t start until the final month of the 2017-18 season where he, flanked by Teuvo Teravainen and Valentin Zykov, had some iffy moments but showed great promise.

The 2018-19 season has featured far more good than bad for Aho as a center. To boot, he has been given consistent top-six minutes in the middle of Teravainen and first-year Hurricane Micheal Ferland.

While Aho has been moved to the wing on a resurrected TSA line in wake of Ferland’s concussion, I think the correct course of action will be to play Aho as a full-time center. He is better as a center and it gets the most out of him from goal line-to-goal line.

Regardless of how they handle Aho’s usage moving forward, we know that, wherever he plays, he is an elite hockey player. He is the guy to build around for the Hurricanes, and they are well aware of that.

The Nylander deal should be the framework of what Aho’s extension should look like. They are extremely comparable players. It doesn’t have to be more difficult than that.

The fact that Aho scores more goals, is a year younger, and is trending upward should nudge his money up a little bit. That said, I have a tough time envisioning his annual cap value reaching $8 million at this point. With Nylander and Boston’s David Pastrnak both coming in under $7 million AAV, I think Aho stays in that ballpark.

A lot can change between now and when this deal gets done, but barring any kind of dramatic change in the situation, I think it’s safe to say that we have a good idea of what Aho’s long-term contract extension will look like.

Prediction: 7 years, $50.75 million ($7.25 million AAV)