For anyone catching up, a menu of previous player (and also coaching and GM) report cards can be found at the bottom of the article.
Sebastian Aho’s starting point for the 2016-17 season
Sebastian Aho entered the 2016-17 season with high expectations based on his whirlwind 2015-16 season. First Aho starred on a line with 2016 NHL lottery picks Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi for Team Finland at the 2016 World Junior Championships. The line was an offensive juggernaut and led Finland to a gold medal. Aho later stepped up and held his own playing against NHLers in the world championships in the spring. In between, he had a solid season playing professionally in Finland. By the time summer came, Aho had made a strong claim to be ready for the NHL in 2016-17 despite having yet to play a professional game in North America. Aho played on Finland’s team for the World Cup, arrived in Raleigh in time for about a week of training camp and then quickly launched into his NHL career. At the same time, he was both a rising star yet completely unproven.
Sebastian Aho’s 2016-17 season with the Carolina Hurricanes
Even before training camp started, Coach Bill Peters settled on a line, at least to start, that paired Sebastian Aho with countryman Teuvo Teravainen and Elias Lindholm. The young line would start the season as the Hurricanes’ third line behind Skinner/Rask Stempniak and Jordan Staal’s line that featured a mix of wings.
Sebastian Aho settled in fairly quickly and looking reasonably comfortable with the NHL game right out of the gate. Despite being a smaller player, he played with his head up, handled contact fine and did not seem intimidated or overmatched. From the very beginning, the NHL fuss rookie-wise was about 2017 draftees Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, but Aho quietly got off to a decent start collecting 5 assists in his first 5 games in the NHL. He would slow a bit, get caught in some Hurricanes’ line shuffling and not score his first NHL goal until his fourteenth NHL game on November 12, but from the beginning he looked comfortable and had a headiness about his game that suggested that the high hopes entering his rookie season were justified. Through the first quarter of the season, Aho had a respectable 3 goals and 8 assists in 21 games.
He continued on a consistent pace throughout the season, playing in all 82 games and collecting 12, 12 and 14 points in the second, third and fourth quarters of the season respectively. He also showed a propensity of stepping up in a big way when it mattered most. On November 12, Aho broke out for his first goal in a 3-point game in a big home win against Washington that followed a run of 5 losses in 6 games. On January 31, he scored a hat trick against the Flyers who were the team above the the Hurricanes in the standings, break a 5-game losing streak and start things on the right foot coming out of the All-Star break. And after losing 5 of 6 in early March, a 3-point night by Aho propelled the Hurricanes to a big win over the Rangers to kick off the team’s 13-game point streak.
Sebastian Aho’s 49-point scoring total was good but not spectacular especially in a season that featured the rookie seasons of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Patrik Laine, but it represented a strong start to his NHL career and potentially a foundation for even bigger things to come.
Grading Sebastian Aho
Graded as: A rookie expected to jump straight into the top 9 and grow from there.
Grade: A. In grading Sebastian Aho as a rookie, I give him credit for having a solid rookie season that contributed to the Hurricanes’ modest 2016-17 success and more significantly kept intact the hope that he had the potential to grow into an elite offensive player. To be clear, Aho was not as good as Jeff Skinner who received an A- yesterday, but that is because Aho is held to a lesser standard as a rookie.
Looking forward to 2017-18
The Hurricanes will be looking for more from Sebastian Aho going forward. Of the current roster, I view him and Jeff Skinner as being the focal points of two separate lines designed to drive the offense and boost the team’s offense at least up to the midway point of the league. I think Aho more than any other player will benefit production-wise if Ron Francis can add a top 6 scoring type center to the mix this summer. Some of Aho’s best hockey came playing with Jordan Staal and sometimes Elias Lindholm and too much of his playmaking wasted. A simple target for 2017-18 would be for Aho to push up to 60 points, but maybe more significantly, he is a player capable of driving the offensive production for his line and boosting the scoring of his line mates regardless of who they are.
What say you Canes fans?
What grade do you give Sebastian Aho if you take off the ‘rookie’ consideration and just grade him as a top 6 NHL forward?
What do you think is a reasonable target for 2017-18 for Sebastian Aho? What do you see as upside potential if he puts it all together and finds chemistry on a scoring line?
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