While the Carolina Hurricanes season ended in disappointment, the team had a lot to be proud of. Now in the offseason, tough decisions will be made, and management will work to put the team in a place to succeed next season. In the meantime, we will take a look back at individual players’ seasons and see how they did for a Carolina Hurricanes offseason grade. Today we start off with Sebastian Aho.
Carolina Hurricanes Offseason Grades: Sebastian Aho
Sebastian Aho is arguably the closest player to a superstar that the Hurricanes have. He plays with his heart on his sleeve and has the skills to produce as well. Since Carolina drafted Aho in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft, Aho has taken the Hurricanes by storm (no pun intended). He broke numerous team and franchise records and has made a solid case for being a franchise piece for a long time. We discussed this in length in a previous article. With one year left on his contract, locking up Aho long-term is a top priority for the Hurricanes. Aho is a first-line player that plays at a very high level, but with that comes high expectations.
Sebastian Aho’s Regular Season
Aho spent the entire regular season as the Hurricane’s first-line centre. He also spent time killing penalties and on the top powerplay unit. In 75 games, he led the team with 36 goals, three shorthanded goals, four shorthanded points, and nine game-winning goals. He was second in points with 67 and shooting percentage at 16.5%. In the faceoff circle, he was at 51.35%. Compared to his personal best Aho was one off for goals scored but took a decent dip in points from 81 last season. Like is common over his career (and probably that of most), Aho had stretches of insane play followed by stretches of being quiet. Notably, Aho caught fire at the beginning 0f 2023 and showed his star power.
His dip in production this season could be the result of a number of factors. Team scoring spread throughout the lineup, the Hurricanes losing Vincent Trocheck as a second-line centre who might could take some of the pressure off of Aho, or his own play could be valid reasons. Playing four less games may have contributed slightly to not meeting or exceeding his goal total last year but that likely wouldn’t have affected his point totals. Regardless of this, Aho’s numbers put him in the same line as players such as Chris Kreider, Jake Guentzel and John Tavares. Outside of points, Aho’s play this season contributed largely to the success of the team given the relatively low goal-scoring amongst forwards.
Sebastian Aho’s Playoffs
Sebastian Aho’s playoff numbers and utilization was largely a carry over from the regular season. Aho was the team’s top-line centre and played in all situations. He tied for the team lead in the playoffs in points with 12 and was second in goals with five. He also was second on the team in expected goals, takeaways and shots on goal.
One other notable stat for Aho is that he led the team in penalties drawn. This is also tied for second in the playoffs for all players playing more than 80 minutes before the Stanley Cup Final. Combining this with watching his play, especially in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals, you could see the fire in him that makes him such a centrepiece for this team. He was generating chances, hitting and setting up plays left and right. Unfortunately, the finishing in the Eastern Conference Finals for the entire team went cold (largely due to the play of Sergei Bobrovsky) so the points did not follow as strong as expected for Aho.
On the first line, you would ideally like a player that is getting in the top fifteen to twenty in the league in points and/or goals. However, for a player like Aho pushing to be a franchise piece, you also look for clutch performance in times when the team needs it most. Aho did just that many times this season and some in the playoffs. He tied for fifth in the league in game winning goals in the regular season.
His hockey IQ, deceptive speed and high competitiveness made him a very effective player for the Hurricanes this year. He led the team in many categories like you would expect even though he was not necessarily at the top of the league. The tough thing for Aho when it comes to determining a grade is that even though he led the team this year in many categories and his play, the expectations for him are also very high. And that is not a bad thing. Considering the type of player and person Aho is, he would likely agree that he can even take his play to a higher level to help the team succeed.
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