Carolina Hurricanes fans were chanting Sebastian Aho’s name Tuesday at PNC Arena.
That was a rarity. But so was a rookie scoring a hat trick.
Aho, 19, became the first Hurricanes rookie since Erik Cole in December 2001 to score three goals in a game as the Canes beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-1 to end a five-game losing streak. The Finnish forward was the youngest in franchise history to do it, and also added an assist for a four-point night.
Named the game’s first star, Aho heard the fans’ chants during a postgame interview at the bench.
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“That was pretty cool,” Aho said Wednesday.
And Aho was back to being a rookie Wednesday. After the Canes’ practice at Raleigh Center Ice, he was the one scooping up the pucks and carrying off the bucket.
A year ago, Aho was playing in the Finnish Elite League, on bigger ice surfaces. He’s now a fixture in the Canes’ lineup, scoring his 15 goals in the past 36 games after going the first 13 games without a goal as he made the adjustment to making plays in tighter spaces.
“He’s settling in,” Canes coach Bill Peters said Wednesday. “Settling in in North America, off the ice. Settling in in the NHL, in smaller rinks obviously, settling in with a bunch of new teammates. And just confidence. He’s gained confidence by playing well and playing hard.
“The thing nobody talks about with ‘Seabass’ is how competitive he is. He’s a competitive guy. He’s wiry strong for a hockey player.”
Aho is listed at 5-11 and 172 pounds, but has said he’s closer to 180. He’s a crafty player, one called “The Professor” by some in the Finnish media because of his hockey smarts and comparisons to former Detroit Red Wings stars Igor “The Professor” Larionov.
Aho was a second-round draft pick by Carolina in 2015, the 35th overall selection. He has been on a steady ascent, starring as Finland won the 2016 World Junior Championship, then playing for the Finnish national team in the 2016 World Championships and World Cup of Hockey.
In the World Juniors, played in Finland, Aho centered a line with Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. He and Laine, the second overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft by the Winnipeg Jets, were linemates again in the World Cup.
“There really is no ceiling for him,” Canes center Jordan Staal said. “You can tell he has such great smarts and hands. I’m excited to watch him grow into the player we all want to see, and I have no doubt he can do it.”
Given the five-game slide before the NHL All-Star break, Peters switched up the lines in Monday’s practice. Aho was on Staal’s line opposite winger Elias Lindholm and scored twice in the first period as the Canes (22-20-7) took a 2-0 lead.
His first goal came after he hopped over the boards on a line change, taking a pass from Staal and beating goalie Steve Mason with a backhand-to-forehand move. His second came after he helped force a Flyers turnover, ripping a shot off a Lindholm pass, and the third on a second-period power play on another setup pass from Lindholm.
Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk also scored for the Canes — Skinner ending a six-game pointless drought and Faulk picking up a power-play goal.
In a game that had a “must-win” feel to it, the Canes (22-20-7) limited the Flyers to 16 shots and made it a fairly stress-free game for goalie Cam Ward. The Flyers’ six shots in the first two periods were their fewest since Dec. 4, 1968.
“It was a fun night, a great night for us,” Aho said. “We needed this. It was a good two points.”