Sebastian Aho Making a Case for the Face of the Carolina Hurricanes

RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 31: Sebastian Aho #20 of the Carolina Hurricanes celebrates a goal during the third period of the game against the Los Angeles Kings at PNC Arena on January 31, 2023 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Hurricanes defeated the Kings in overtime 5-4. (Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Getty Images)

Since the Carolina Hurricanes drafted Sebastian Aho in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft, he has blossomed into a franchise piece for the team. He is consistently breaking franchise records at only 25 years old. Aho is making a push for the face of the organization and will be a cornerstone for Carolina’s success for years to come.

Sebastian Aho Has Taken Over for the Carolina Hurricanes

While the Hurricanes have had many notable players, there are a few who rise to the level of being the face of the franchise. Ron Francis, Rod Brind’Amour, and Eric Staal have each arguably served in that role at various times. Following Eric Staal’s departure, the Carolina Hurricanes have not truly had a face of the organization. Jeff Skinner’s electrifying rookie year had the looks that he may have been next, but he eventually was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in 2018.

Aho’s recent hot streak of goals in six straight games and 12 goals and 18 points since January 1, 2023 is just a small flash of what he has brought to the Hurricanes’ organization. But it is more than the points that make him the next face of the Hurricanes.

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An Off-the-Board Pick

In the 2015 NHL Draft, Ron Francis, then general manager of the Hurricanes, used Carolina’s second-round pick to select a somewhat under-the-radar, smaller forward from Rauma, Finland. This was Sebastian Aho. They selected defenseman Noah Hanifin with their 5th overall pick that year. When the Aho pick was made, many analysts and fans were bewildered. Hanifin was the slam dunk pick but Aho was a head-scratcher. 

However, when describing Aho Hurricanes director of European scouting Robert Kron stated that “He was a quiet kid but very smart and very confident. Quietly confident….He wasn’t a big kid. But he had that look in his eye that he knows he’s a good player, in a good way, not in a cocky way.” Many had him slotted to be picked around the third or fourth round that year so it wasn’t like he was a complete off-the-board pick, but many agreed he should not have been selected that high.

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From Draft to World Exposure to NHL

In his draft year, at 17 years old, Aho scored four goals and had 11 points for Oulun Kärpät and two assists for Porin Ässät, both of the Finnish Sm-liiga. The SM-liiga is the highest level of professional hockey in Finland. While not exactly lighting up the score sheet, he did manage to score the overtime game-winner in game seven of the Sm-liiga Championship that season. However, in his draft plus one year he amassed 20 goals and had 45 points for Kärpät.

Not only was Aho having success in the Sm-liiga, but he was also instrumental on the Finnish World Junior Championship gold medal team in 2016, an 18-year-old on the Finnish World Cup of Hockey team in 2016, and had multiple IIHF World Championship hockey appearances from 2016 to 2018, serving as an alternate captain in 2018 and finishing the tournament ranked second in points and first in goals. Whether it was being underaged, undersized, or otherwise discounted, Aho’s competitive drive kept proving pundits wrong. What started as a “wasted pick” for many was starting to seem more and more like a home run. The Hurricanes signed Aho in 2016 to an entry-level deal following Finland’s gold medal at the 2015 World Junior Championships. 

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Sebastian Aho’s NHL Statistics

Sebastian Aho started off his NHL career during the 2016-17 season with a bang. As a rookie, he put up 24 goals and finished second on the team in that category. Every season since then he has scored over 20 goals. This included three 30-goal seasons in that span and 83 points in 2018-19. He currently leads the Hurricanes in goals with 23 and xGF with 21.6, fueled by his hot streak since the beginning of 2023. Notably, Aho has been first or second on the team in xGF every season he has been in the NHL. It is not just a fluky season for Aho. His consistent statistical success over his career is one aspect that makes him the face of the Hurricanes.

Awards and Achievements

Following Aho’s statistical success, he has broken numerous records and received various awards. Aho leads the Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers franchise in overtime goals (eight) and tied the franchise record for short-handed goals with Eric Staal. He is also in the top 10 for the franchise lead in goals, assists, and points, and third overall in game-winning goals, in only six and a half seasons. Aho is likely to keep moving up all of these lists.

Aho has participated in two NHL All-Star Games in 2019 and 2022. He has been an alternate captain for the Hurricanes since the 2021-22 season. Additionally, the Hurricanes have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs every season since 2018-19 after a decade-long drought. Aho has been a crucial piece of that playoff consistency. 

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Sebastian Aho as a Player

Not to be confused with Sebastian Aho of the New York Islanders, the Hurricanes’ Aho as a player has developed into a true number-one centre. (It was fun to see both Ahos score at almost the same time this season though.) He has a strong hockey IQ and a knack for frequently being in the right place at the right time. He scores many of his goals backdoor or close to the net simply by being open or banging in rebounds. 

With that said, Aho has a quick and accurate shot and deceptive speed. His shorthanded goal-scoring ability shows his determination and speed considering most shorthanded goals are scored on a breakaway or odd-man rush. 

One other aspect of Aho’s game that is worthy of pointing out is his empty net goal-scoring ability. He holds the franchise record for empty netters with 25. Crazy, right? Empty netters? But people may miss the effort Aho puts in to get those goals and seal games. And how many times do we see missed empty netters lead to blown games?

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Ability to Change a Game

While Aho’s stats and records mentioned above are worthy of praise, equally as impressive are the intangible aspects he brings to the Hurricanes. The intangibles make the difference between a face of an organization and simply a really good player.

What a team needs from a star player is someone with the ability to make a play to change a game when it is needed most. Aho has made a habit of doing this for the Hurricanes. You can look no further than when the Hurricanes beat the San Jose Sharks on January 27, 2023, in dramatic fashion. After scoring an early second-period power play goal on the rush, Aho would score again late in the third period. This time by creating a partial breakaway and igniting a powder keg that lead to Carolina’s overtime win. This was after San Jose had scored an empty net goal too.

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Overtime Winners Tell a Story

Aho’s overtime goal scoring record alone tells an important story. His clutch ability to end a game is a notable attribute that sets Aho apart. Most recently, on January 31, 2023 against the Los Angeles Kings, the Hurricanes came back from a third period four to one deficit to win in overtime. Who scored the overtime goal? Sebastian Aho.

In the 2020-21 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Aho redirected a Jaccob Slavin shot in overtime of game six of the first round against the Nashville Predators to send the Hurricanes into round two. The list of clutch performances from Aho is long. 

The Face of the Organization

This is what makes Aho a franchise player and the face of the organization. Someone who has the stats combined with the ability to carry a team when it’s needed most. Someone whose name instantly arises when the team is mentioned. While Aho is not necessarily in the same elite status as Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, he carries similar qualities. Sebastian Aho has proven to be the next face of the organization.

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