Hurricanes Must Be Patient with Aho

Off to one of their best starts in franchise history, the Carolina Hurricanes don’t need to worry about much. Center Sebastian Aho’s production, or lack thereof, would be at the top of the short list, almost by default.

The Conference-Leading Hurricanes

Maybe if the Hurricanes didn’t have an Eastern Conference-leading 10 points, the situation would be different. As it stands now, they can afford to be patient with their newly re-signed star center in Aho, who has a solitary (empty-net) goal in the six games the Hurricanes have gone an impressive 5-1. In fact, there are five seasons’ worth of reasons they have no choice but to be.

Sebastian Aho Carolina Hurricanes
Sebastian Aho – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With the Hurricanes matching the Montreal Canadiens’ offer sheet to which they signed Aho, the two sides are effectively joined at the hip for the next half-decade. Granted, Aho doesn’t have a no-movement clause, but there’s no good reason the Hurricanes should want to even consider cutting the cord, especially just six games into the deal.

No one really needs to worry, in other words. With a team-leading 25 shots on goal already, Aho is averaging over four per game. It’s obviously a small sample size, but a popular school of thought suggests shots on goal are one of the first things to go when you’re truly struggling. As it happens, Aho didn’t even average three per game during his career 83-point season last year as 21-year-old.

Aho Still Has Prime Ahead of Him

Now 22, Aho’s best years should still be ahead of him. He theoretically hasn’t even hit his prime scoring years as a forward yet. So, it would be incredibly unusual were Aho to suddenly start declining now, looking at his NHL career up to now.

Firstly, if Aho were a one-year wonder, his point totals generally would not have increased in each of his three seasons. Secondly, Aho has gone through stretches like this before. He may have tied an NHL record with his 12-game point streak to start last season, but he only scored his first goal, the season before, in Game No. 16. That 2017-18 sophomore season of his still ended up a massive success with 29 markers and 65 total points.

Carolina Hurricanes Sebastian Aho
Sebastian Aho – (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Granted, if Aho only ends up with 65 points this coming season, it would be a disappointment. That would be mainly be due to how he’s proven he’s capable of so much more. However, even if his production were to dip to that level, his $8.45 million cap hit would be in line with what players with similar point totals are making. For example, Nashville Predators center Ryan Johansen has an eight-year, $64 million deal. Philaldelphia Flyers forward Jakub Voracek has an eight-year, $66-million deal.

Aho Lot of Nothing to Worry About

Granted, those contracts were signed two and four years ago respectively. So, they’re not perfect comparables. If anything, inflation over those seasons should make Aho’s deal look like more of a bargain. If Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, who’s also 22, can make over $11 million on average for each of the next five seasons without ever having reached 80 points, without anyone complaining about his worth, Aho’s deal can certainly still turn out to be a steal.

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews – (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Aho admittedly still has to start putting the puck in the net for that to be the case. However, any additional pressure on him to live up to his new deal won’t help matters. As it stands, all signs point to Aho simply clutching his stick a bit tighter these days. He’ll inevitably loosen his grip eventually.

Thankfully, the Hurricanes are obviously deep enough up front to make up for Aho’s slow start. The contributions of offseason acquisitions like Ryan Dzingel and Erik Haula are successfully offsetting Aho’s drought to help propel the team to their Metropolitan Division-leading 5-1 record. Meanwhile, usual suspects like Teuvo Teravainen are producing as expected. It begs the question: How dangerous will the Hurricanes be once Aho gets going, like everyone knows he can? Like everyone should believe he will?