With a middling 5-3-1 record so far this season, the Carolina Hurricanes haven’t stormed out of the gate yet in 2018-19. Despite some big roster changes and a dramatically different front office, they feel like the same team: promising, puck-hogging, yet at times snake-bitten.
(The goalies? They remain a question mark, yet have been good enough so far.)
For some time, these critical darlings have felt like a herd of solid players. Jordan Staal – a very, very impressive defensive forward with a certain ceiling on offense – felt like a microcosm of the Hurricanes. They lacked that game-breaking star.
It’s dangerously early, but so far, Sebastian Aho looks like he’s going from “the closest thing the Hurricanes have to a star” to … simply, a star.
Through nine games, the 21-year-old center has four goals and 10 assists for 14 points. Two of his goals have been game-winners, including an overtime-clincher.
Aho was incredible in that game, scoring two goals and two assists. His 14 points put him in a tie for seventh place in scoring with the likes of Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane. Yeah.
Now, sure there’s been a bit of puck luck involved. Aho scored his four goals on 24 shots on net, making for a 16.7 shooting percentage that’s likely to fall at least a bit (his career average points to some shooting skill, though, at 13-percent).
That’s not a everyone-doubting-William-Karlsson-type shooting percentage, though. There should be some drop-off, yet Aho’s unlikely to be fool’s gold.
As much as the flashier numbers bring Aho much-deserved attention (three multi-point games already this season), his consistency is as exciting as anything else. The Hurricanes star hasn’t failed to score in a game yet in 2018-19, and he aims to extend his season-opening point streak to 10 games on Friday as the Hurricanes take on their puck-hogging twins, the San Jose Sharks.
It hasn’t taken long for Dougie Hamilton to note that Aho boasts the sort of skill set that really fits with the way the game is played these days.
“He can get going really fast and still make plays while picking up speed,” Hamilton said, via the Athletic’s Craig Custance (sub required). “That’s the dynamic part of his game. It’s pretty impressive to watch.”
Aho’s also getting the green light from new Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour.
The Finnish forward has been on a steady incline during his short time in the NHL, scoring 24 goals and 49 points in his rookie season (16:47 TOI in 2016-17), while taking another step forward with 29 goals and 65 points as a sophomore (17:55 TOI in 2017-18). Another promising sign for Aho’s climb up the ranks of the elite is that he’s carrying a clearer first-line workload so far in 2018-19, averaging an impressive 19:10 TOI.
Here’s hoping nothing gets in that way, then.
Aho’s possession stats are generally strong, with them only looking iffy relative to his puck-magnet teammates. There’s mild concern over some turbulence regarding his work at center, if he hits a cold streak. As recently as late September, there were rumblings about Aho struggling at center, and maybe face-off wizard Rod Brind’Amour will chafe at the Finn’s hit-or-miss work at draws (46.9-percent winning percentage this season, 46.3 for his career).
Ideally, Brind’Amour would see that the good massively outweighs the bad for Aho, and it’s plausible that the young forward will improve his all-around game with experience. There’s still plenty of time for improvement at 21.
That’s a scary thing for opponents, especially since Aho’s found such early chemistry with Teuvo Teravainen and Micheal Ferland.
One wouldn’t expect Aho to maintain his current 127.5-point pace, yet it’s also more than fair to expect a healthy jump from last season’s 65 points. That leap might just be enough to end Carolina’s nine-year playoff drought.
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.