The best hockey players in the world gathered in the heart of Silicon Valley a few days ago for a weekend full of All-Star celebration. For the first time in his three year career, Sebastian Aho represented the Carolina Hurricanes. The national media attention that he received as well as the two goals that he scored highlights just how far the young Finn has come since he was selected in the second round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Aho was nearly a 25 goal scorer in his rookie season. He likely would have eclipsed the 30 goal mark last season had it not been for an unfortunate hit from Mark Giordano last January, resulting in a concussion that kept him out of four games. And his team-leading 22 goals through 50 games this season puts him nicely on track to beat the 29 that he netted last year.
Aho continues to trend upwards in offensive output, but we knew at a very early stage that he could put up crooked offensive numbers in the NHL. Something that remained in question for the first two seasons of his North American career was whether or not he could perform into a top six center role.
It seems that we finally have an answer.
Rod Brind’Amour made a leap of faith last fall, albeit reluctantly, in slotting Aho at center between Micheal Ferland and Teuvo Teravainen in what shaped up to be a very productive first line. There was a point earlier in the season that the trio was scoring at a rate faster than every other line in the NHL except for Colorado’s incredible Nathan MacKinnon-centered scoring line. The line, when together, has remained an offensively and defensively dominant one — and Aho has been driving much of that play.
Perhaps the simplest and most efficient metric in evaluating Sebastian Aho’s influence on the Hurricanes is his Goals For Percentage, 61.02% and 14th in the league among centers who have played more than 500 minutes this season. This indicates that the team is scoring significantly more while he’s on the ice than they’re getting scored on. His most common line mates, Ferland and Teravainen, are sporting GF% just slightly above that mark, likely because Aho has been cycling into the penalty killing unit rather than only taking shifts on the power play.
Aho also brings something to the table that the Hurricanes sorely lack, and that’s a reasonably high shooting percentage. He’s scoring on a team best 10.42% of his shots this season, followed closely by Ferland. He leads the team in individual scoring chances for, first assists, and Individual Point Percentage (the percentage of Goals For while that player is on the ice that the player earned a point on). All of these pieces indicate that Aho is driving offensive play for the Hurricanes in the 1C spot.
But an All-Star center does a lot more than produce offensively, and Aho has been dominant at both ends of the ice. He’s been rewarded with 47 minutes on the penalty kill this season, 11th most on the team. In the absence of Jordan Staal over the past month, Aho’s line has been consistenlty slotting against the opposition’s best — and still producing in the process. Early in January, Aho was on the ice in the waning seconds of the game against Columbus when he did this:
What can’t he do?
In just his third year in North America, Sebastian Aho is an NHL All-Star at the center position. He’s a team leader in every facet of the game, and he’s only six months removed from his first legal drink in the United States. The future is very bright.