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About Last Season: Sebastian Aho Performance Review and Grade

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Sebastian Aho continued to do Sebastian Aho things last season, in other words, dominate pretty much every facet of the game for the Hurricanes.

Sebastian Aho takes the puck out of the Carolina zone during the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Thursday, Mar. 18, 2021 in PNC Arena.
Kaydee Gawlik

Sebastian Aho 2020-21 Season By The Numbers

  • Age: 24
  • NHL Seasons: 5
  • Scoring: 24 goals, 33 assists, 57 points in 56 games
  • Advanced numbers: 55.99 CF%, 55.51 SCF%, 55.54 xGF%, 62.71 GF%
  • Average TOI: 14:48 ES, 3:01 PP, 1:38 SH
  • Contract Status: Three years left, $8.46 million AAV

Entering last season, there was some talk about when Andrei Svechnikov might overtake Sebastian Aho as the Hurricanes’ clear “MVP” or best player. Fast forward eight months, and that talk has pretty much stopped. That’s partly due to a “down” year for Svechnikov. But, for the most part, it’s because the fact that Aho, once again, had an excellent year in pretty much every facet.

He led the Hurricanes in goals, assists, points, power-play goals (tied, seven) and shorthanded goals (three). He once again drove possession at an elite level, and even improved his faceoff win percentage in his third year as a full-time center, finishing above 50% (52.7) for the first time in his career.

He also enjoyed a strong playoff performance, with five goals and 11 points in 11 games, including the series winner against Nashville.

Aho is clearly the Hurricanes’ MVP, most important player, best player, straw that stirs the drink and any other platitude you want to apply to him. As you can see below, he dominated just about every situation he played in last season. The one criticism is he wasn’t a great defender at even strength, but given how much offense he creates, and how good of a penalty killer he was, it’s easy to forgive him for that.

via JFresh Hockey

Aho was a key contributor on a power play that finished the year second in the league, with seven goals and 18 points up a man. He also played 1:38 per game on a penalty kill that finished third in the league.

In fact, part of what’s made Aho such a complete player for this team in recent years is the growth of his penalty kill prowess. And what makes him such an effective penalty killer is his ability to attack when the Hurricanes were shorthanded.

The Hurricanes had a 39.89 expected goals for percentage shorthanded with Aho on the ice. That’s not quite Martin Necas’ lofty number, but it’s still quite impressive for a situation where the ice is supposed to be constantly titled against you. And Aho and Necas often teamed up to make opposing power plays look foolish, including that time they had the entire Florida Panthers roster contemplating retirement.

We’ve now gone over what made Aho’s season so great. We also need to talk about what that season meant to the Hurricanes. The Canes had their best regular season in franchise history last year, finishing with a .714 points percentage and winning their first division title since 2006.

That had to do with a lot of factors, great goaltending, great special teams (which, as we’ve demonstrated, Aho played a key role in) and great depth down the middle. But none of it comes close to happening without the season Aho had.

Aho was remarkably consistent last year, finishing with at least a point per game in all but one month, with his six-goal, 18-point performance in 16 games in April standing out as his best. His most consecutive games without hitting the scoresheet was four, and he only went pointless more than two games in a row twice.

And Carolina needed that consistency from its top gun to weather some of last year’s storms, including an early-season COVID pause that saw team have to play without several lineup regulars upon returning. Aho did everything he did last season despite playing most of it without his fellow Finn and partner in crime: Teuvo Teravainen played just 21 games due to a stint on the COVID protocol list and lengthy bout with concussion symptoms.

Yet Aho kept producing and kept up an elite level of play without his regular partner. No matter who he was playing with: Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas, Nino Niederreiter, even Brock McGinn, Aho found chemistry with his linemates and drove the bus for the Hurricanes. That’s what elite players do.

It seemed like every time the Hurricanes needed a big goal or play, Aho was there.

And, without their best playmaker in Teravainen, Aho took on that role, leading the Hurricanes with 14.62 primary shot assists per 60, according to Corey Snzajder’s tracking.

2020-21 also marked Aho’s third straight season as a full-time center, a role he’s excelled in. In that time frame, he sits seventh in goals and eighth in points among NHL centers, and has made the days when the Hurricanes were desperate to get their hands on anything resembling a first-line pivot a distant memory.

There are a myriad of factors that have gone into the Canes’ team-best, three-season streak of making the playoffs, but Aho effectively making the transition to such an important position and role is chief among them.

Montreal may have done Carolina with its 2019 offersheet, as Aho has three years left at an AAV a shade under $8.5 million, a dollar amount he’s outperformed so far.

And, at 24, Aho may still have room to improve and could get even better, which should be a scary thought for any future Hurricanes opponent.

Poll

How would you grade Sebastian Aho’s 2020-21 season?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    A - Outstanding Performance
    (216 votes)
  • 12%
    B - Above Average Performance
    (31 votes)
  • 0%
    C - Average Performance
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    D - Below Average Performance
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    F - Significantly Below Average Performance
    (1 vote)
249 votes total Vote Now