When it comes to the Calder Trophy for the league’s outstanding rookie, three players — Mitch Marner, Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews — have separated themselves from the pack.
You can throw in some dark horse possibilities for a late-season charge like William Nylander and Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski, who is not only having a productive first year but he also averages more than 21 minutes of ice time per game.
And then there is Sebastian Aho.
Selected in the second round, 35th overall, of the 2015 draft, Aho seems to have quietly moved into fifth in rookie scoring with 31 points in 51 games, and third in goal scoring among rookies with 16 goals. Only Matthews and Laine, tied with each other at 23 goals, have more.
It’s easy to suggest that based on the market Aho plays in and the fact he’s not a top-five pick — or not even a first-round pick — he might not garner the same attention or hype that others in his freshman class will get. But after a slow start — at least in terms of individual goal totals, going his first 13 games without scoring — the 19-year-old Finnish forward has lived up to the potential that Hurricanes management saw in him when they penciled him into the lineup for this season.
He’s been Carolina’s most productive player over the last two months, with a team-best 13 goals and 20 points since the beginning of December.
“I think the one guy that has really come on is Sebastian Aho,” said Hurricanes GM Ron Francis. “He’s really starting to find his stride in the league, he’s extremely competitive, extremely smart and extremely talented. I think it’s a real bright future for our organization with a player like that.”
One of his most recent accomplishments was a hat trick against Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Bigger picture: Aho is part of a Hurricanes team that has a substantial amount of promising young talent and is among the better teams when it comes to puck possession. A difficult start may have set Carolina back early in the season, but the Hurricanes have fought their way back into the playoff fight, now four points back of Philly for a wild card spot, and with two games in hand.
Aho may be a very, very long shot for rookie of the year.
But after a slow start for the team and individual, the Hurricanes now have a 31.1 per cent chance of making the playoffs, and Aho has been a major reason why they’re in contention.