Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes may speak softly but his game is getting louder.
Or as Canes coach Bill Peters put it Thursday, “He takes ‘Be seen, not heard’ to an extreme but his play speaks volumes.”
The rookie forward made enough of an impression Wednesday, in the Canes’ 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, that he was approached afterward by the Pens’ Sidney Crosby.
“He got a good compliment from Sidney Crosby, who postgame on the way out asked him who he was,” Peters said. “If you’re getting his attention, you’re doing something right.”
Aho, 19, is doing a lot of things right for the Canes. He’s a playmaker. He’s sound defensively, with a quick stick. He’s competitive and he’s tougher than he may look at 5-11 and 172 pounds.
“Some people may not see me in that way, but I think I’m a competitive player,” Aho said Thursday. “It’s good if they think I’m a soft player. I just try to play hard and play my own game.”
Could Aho shoot more? He thinks so. So does Peters.
Could Aho be a more accurate shooter? Again, Aho says yes.
“To get more goals, it needs to be better,” he said. “You get confidence. I know I can score more goals if I just go to the net and shoot the puck.”
That may mean being a bit more selfish. Playing on a line with center Teuvo Teravainen, a fellow Finn, and Lee Stempniak, his first instinct is to make the pass, make a play.
“At some point one of them has to develop more of a shooter’s mentality,” Peters said of Aho and Teravainen. “I think that will be Sebastian.”
One near-miss against the Pens had Aho shaking his head Thursday. Positioned near the post, Aho batted the puck, only to have it hit the post. The puck dropped behind Pens goalie Matt Murray, who was able to smother it under his left leg in the crease.
“Bad shot from me,” Aho said. “I should score there.”
But consider that Aho was playing last season in SM-Liiga, Finland’s top league, on bigger European rinks. He’s learning how to manufacture offense and find good shots in tighter spaces in the NHL, and against the best players in the world.
“It’s a different game,” Aho said. “Things happen a little bit faster and you just have to be faster, everywhere. You just have to play. That’s how you learn some things.”
Aho has six goals in 32 games, including a breakaway beauty against the Anaheim Ducks, and 12 assists. A season-high seven shots against Pittsburgh gave him 81, third on the team behind Jeff Skinner (121) and Justin Faulk (94).
“I think my game is getting better all the time,” Aho said. “I feel like myself more, every day.”
Against the Pens, Aho shouldered off Pens defenseman Trevor Daley near the Pittsburgh blue line, carried the puck into the zone and then made a spinning drop pass to Teravainen for a shot. Murray made the stop but Stempniak followed up for the score and a 2-1 lead.
“He just looks quicker here recently,” Peters said. “He’s dynamic with his skating and that line has some chemistry right now.”
After practice Thursday at PNC Arena, Peters skated over to Aho — called “Seabass” by his coach but “Sepe” in Finland — for a quick chat.
“He’s talking a little bit,” Peters said, smiling. “I had to ask him to crank up the volume a little louder and use his outdoor voice in the big rink.”
Did Aho crank it up?
“No,” Peters said. “I got closer to him and it was good. He had a big smile on his face. That’s what happens with young guys. They do find a comfort level. He’s playing real well.”
Enough to get Sidney’s Crosby’s attention.
Blackhawks at Hurricanes
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh.