The question to Sebastian Aho was a simple one: would he prefer to play center or wing?
The Carolina Hurricanes forward wasn’t quite sure how to respond Friday, or so it seemed, mulling it over, wanting to say the right thing.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Obviously ... I don’t know.”
The Canes had put in their morning skate at PNC Arena before the Anaheim Ducks game. Aho, after centering a line the first 24 games of the season, would be the left winger with center Jordan Staal and winger Teuvo Teravainen as Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour brought the so-called “TSA” line from last year back together.
“It’s the first time this year but I played two whole years as a winger,” Aho said. “It’s not a new spot for me.
“Actually I don’t care. It’s up to Roddy where I play and who I play with. I’m happy with ‘Jordo’ and ‘Turbo.’”
Aho did spend nearly all of his first two NHL seasons on the wing, scoring 24 goals as a rookie in 2016-17 and 29 last season. If Brind’Amour had his druthers, Aho would have been there again to start this year.
But Victor Rask sliced into two of his fingers with a kitchen knife just before training camp began. Suddenly down a center, Brind’Amour’s decision was made for him: Aho would be in the middle.
The early returns were sensational. Centering a line with Teravainen and Micheal Ferland, Aho had points in each of his first 12 games, the longest season-opening point streak in franchise history.
Aho had four goals in the first five games, then went 12 games without one. That streak ended Nov. 12 with his game-winner against the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime, and he has three goals in the past eight games, seven for the season, and 26 points in 25 games overall.
“I need to be better and I need to play better,” Aho said Friday. “Our line wasn’t good enough lately so it was time to change.”
With Rask back and playing and Lucas Wallmark capable of being bumped up to third-line center, and with Ferland now sidelined with a concussion, Brind’Amour made the move.
“Jordan is such a good two-way center, so maybe that leaves more offense to me,” Aho said. “Obviously I want to be a good two-way forward still and good in our end, too.”
Aho was on the ice Friday when the Ducks tied the score 1-1 late in regulation. He battled with forward Rickard Rakell for the puck behind the Canes’ net, but Rakell came away with it and skated to the corner before cycling it back to Adam Henrique.
Henrique’s shot glanced off the stick of defenseman Calvin de Haan and popped into the air, where Pontus Aberg swatted it over the left shoulder of goalie Curtis McElhinney and into the top corner of the net. Weird play but a big goal.
Ryan Getzlaf then won it for the Ducks in overtime, slipping free for a stretch pass and beating McElhinney for the 2-1 win. That came after Getzlaf’s line had been contained much of the game by the Staal line.
Aho would get 21:36 in ice time, including more than six minutes on the power play, and assisted on Andrei Svechnikov’s first-period goal. With more offensive freedom on the wing, Aho had a season-high six shots.
“I thought they were fine,” Brind’Amour said of the line. “Going against Getzlaf all night, they did a pretty nice job. Getzlaf didn’t have too many opportunities.”
Aho was a center throughout his junior career in Finland and at center on Finnish international teams, most memorably with Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi on the wings in the 2016 World Junior Championship. The Finns won the gold medal at home and the players were treated like teen rock stars.
Is Aho’s long-term future in the NHL at center?
“We’ll see about that,” Aho said. “But I’m happy with Jordo and Turbo right now.”