Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand created a stir Tuesday when he tweeted that Toronto’s Mitch Marner should get, oh, $12 million a year when he gets a new contract from the Maple Leafs.
Marchand later clarified that, saying after the game against the Carolina Hurricanes, “You got to give the kid credit, he’s a great player. That’s all I was trying to get at. He’s having a great year.”
Marner, 21, is a winger who has 24 goals and 81 points in 66 games this season. He’s a dynamic player, having a big year and will get a big pay day.
Marchand didn’t mention the Canes’ Sebastian Aho, but what about Aho? He’s 21. After scoring twice in the 4-3 overtime loss to the Bruins, the Canes’ top-line center has tied his career high with 29 goals and has 75 points in 66 games.
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He, too, will soon be due a very big pay day. It won’t be $12 million a year but it will be big.
“He’s just a terrific player,” Canes winger Nino Niederreiter said this week. “He has great speed. He’s highly skilled. He’s tough around the net. Just a great overall player.”
While the NHL’s “Three Stars of the Week” selections are a P.R. promotional tool, it had to be tough passing over Aho this week. He scored the game-winning goal in three consecutive games a week ago as the Canes moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division.
Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was named first star after winning three games and having two shutouts. Winnipeg forward Blake Wheeler had five goals and three assists in three games and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby also had eight points.
Granted, three solid choices. But three straight game-winners? That was a franchise record for Aho, an NHL All-Star this year.
Before being traded to the Canes in January, the Swiss-born Niederreiter had seen Aho in a few NHL games and in the World Championship. But joining Aho’s line opposite right winger Justin Williams has given him a better feel for the Finn, whose youthful looks are belied by his mature play and quiet intensity on the ice.
“He’s very smart,” Niederreiter said. “You always have to be ready for a pass from him. He sees the ice very well and I have enjoyed playing with him.”
Being around the net allowed Aho to score his first goal Tuesday. Defenseman Calvin de Haan, back in the lineup after missing two games with an upper-body injury, zinged a shot through traffic, the puck glancing off Aho’s skate in front of the crease.
“A lucky bounce,” Aho said.
The second, which gave the Canes a 2-0 lead, had nothing to do with luck and was more a display of Aho’s impressive speed and skill. Taking a pass from Niederreiter at the Boston blue line, he was off on a breakaway with a quick burst, beating goalie Jaroslav Halak.
“When we need a big play he seems to be there,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said.
It’s the kind of play Brind’Amour, Canes players and Canes fans are coming to expect from “Nino and Fishy.” The two teamed up Saturday on the overtime goal against the Florida Panthers, Niederreiter making the perfect dish to Aho on a two-on-one.
“He’s a good player, so obviously it’s easier to play with a good player,” Aho said Tuesday of Niederreiter. “He can score, he can make those passes, strong on the puck. He’s a good player, so easy to adjust.”
Williams, whom Aho innocently referred to as “kind of like daddy” in a recent TV interview, tied the score in third after the Bruins had taken a 3-2 lead on Patrice Bergeron’s shorthanded goal. But David Krejci’s overtime goal denied the Canes two points.
Aho didn’t mince words after the game. Noting the Canes’ 0-5 showing on the power play, he said, “In my opinion that cost us the game.”
Asked about his two goals, Aho said he’d rather have the two points. That wasn’t playerspeak. That’s Aho.
Canes general manager Don Waddell has said contract negotiations with Aho and his agent would wait until after the season. It’s anyone’s guess as to where the price will be set but Aho, who will be a restricted free agent, likely will set a new franchise record there, too.
Maybe Brad Marchand has a figure in mind.