It’s going to come soon for Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes, everyone agrees.
“It’s very close for him,” center Jordan Staal said. “He’s a good enough player. He’ll find a way to get it in.”
That is, get the puck in the net. Aho, a rookie forward, has done about everything in the first eight games of the season but score his first NHL goal for the Canes.
Aho has a quick release on his shot, and the Finn is quick enough and crafty enough to get good offensive looks. He has 17 shots on net, tying him for second on the team behind Jeff Skinner.
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Aho, playing in the NHL at 19, had five assists in the first five games. After starting the season on a line with center Elias Lindholm and Teuvo Teravainen, Aho has been moved to Staal’s line opposite left wing Joakim Nordstrom.
That’s not what Canes coach Bill Peters envisioned before the season when mulling over line combinations. But a Staal line, with Nordstrom and Andrej Nestrasil on the wings, did not match the heavy play and effectiveness it had last season before Nestrasil suffered a fractured vertebra. And the Lindholm line struggled at even strength.
“We thought we needed to split Teravainen and Aho,” Peters said. “That line had a hard time getting to the net. Now that we’ve split ’em up we’ve got a little more balance.”
Aho was a quick fit on the Staal line, a good skater and playmaker who also is sound defensively. In the Oct. 22 game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Aho, Nordstrom and Staal teamed up for a well executed rush that ended with Staal scoring.
“He’s got all the tools that you need,” Nordstrom said. “It’s been really fun to play with him so far. He’s really creative, and he has great poise with the puck. He’s got a really good hockey IQ.”
Aho is a quiet type, at least around the media. He spends a lot of time with Teravainen, another Finn, away from the rink – the two recently played at N.C. State’s Lonnie Poole Golf Course (“A really tough course,” Teravainen said).
When asked how he’s adjusting to the NHL in interviews, Aho often has said, “I feel, every day, a little better. It’s going the right way.”
Aho’s father, Harri, says the same about his son’s play. The general manager of Karpat Oulu in Finland’s elite hockey league, Harri Aho said he has watched all of the Canes games on TV.
“It has been good start so far,” Harri Aho said Monday by email. “His performance has been stable and played well two-way hockey. Of course he (wants) himself to produce more offensively, but I think if he continues like that it will come as well.”
Aho had 20 goals in 45 games for Karpat last season and a team-best 45 points. He then had four goals and 15 points in 14 playoff games.
It would be a full season for a player who was a second-round draft pick by Carolina in 2015. Aho, centering a line with Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, helped Finland win the gold medal in the 2016 World Junior Championship. He later was a member of the Finnish national teams in the World Championship and the World Cup of Hockey.
“He’s definitely not the normal young guy, the normal 19-year-old,” Nordstrom said. “He has a lot of experience from the World Championships, World Cup, all that.”
But as Peters said, the player he calls “Sea Bass” – or maybe it’s “Se-bas” – is still learning. Against the Flyers on Sunday, Aho’s neutral-zone pass to Staal resulted in a turnover and soon a Flyers goal that tied the score 3-3. The Flyers went on to win 4-3.
Aho’s mother was on hand to see her son play the Canes’ first two home games of the season. Harri Aho said he will come to Raleigh later this week and will attend a few games.
“The Canes organization has treated him extremely well, and Sebastian really likes to live and play there,” Harri Aho said.
The only thing missing for Aho, for now, is that first NHL goal.