Two star centers from the 2015 Draft will be the focus of the next installment of our Fantasy Faceoff series. The Buffalo Sabres’ Jack Eichel and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho are two players projected to be drafted in the first few rounds by any teams searching for a dynamic and consistent offensive player. Both players are only 22 years old, making them great options in keeper leagues as well.
But given the choice, which player should you draft? While Eichel and Aho come from different backgrounds, they share a lot of similarities on paper, making the decision of who to draft somewhat unclear. Here is how they compare head-to-head in all facets of fantasy hockey.
For our standard scoring settings, we will base the stats off of goals (G), assists (A), penalty minutes (PIM), game-winning goals (GWG), and power-play points (PPP).
Goals and Assists
Eichel and Aho each led their teams in scoring, both averaging over a point per game for the first time in their careers. Aho finished with 83 points in 82 games (30G, 53A), and Eichel finished one point shy at 82 (28G, 54A), though he only played 77 games.
Buffalo’s offense operates by loading up its top line with Jeff Skinner, Eichel, and Sam Reinhart, making them one of the most dangerous lines in the league. Skinner, a former Hurricane, scored 40 goals last season on Eichel’s wing, and that combination should come into play this season as well after Skinner re-signed with the Sabres in June. That just means Eichel will pile up more assists, while also remaining an ever-present scoring threat.
As for Aho, he kept a consistent scoring pace through most of the season, even with his linemates changing often, never going more than three games without a point. Late last season, he found a home with Nino Niederreiter and Justin Williams. But with Williams now out of the picture, there’s a new position opening up on Carolina’s top line, which could lead to an even greater increase in production.
Eichel might be the safer option from a pure goals and assists point of view, but one thing Aho has shown in his young career is that he will not be underestimated – his year-by-year improvements are undeniable. We’ve yet to see the best from either player.
It’s a draw on this one. Eichel and Aho were each sentenced to 26 minutes in the penalty box last season, which is relatively average for an NHLer. Both players have had their share of feisty moments – Eichel even got suspended last March for an illegal hit to the head – but it’s not something either player makes a habit of. You’ll have to look elsewhere for help in this category.
Carolina secured more wins, Aho tallied more goals, and he also scored more game-winning goals (seven) last season, which included three dazzling overtime winners. Eichel had just two game-winning goals last season – both also scored in overtime. The two big guns are good bets to be on the ice in late-game situations, especially in 3-on-3 overtime, when their skill and speed shines most. But the Hurricanes are likely to pocket more wins next season and Aho is their go-to guy. Buffalo’s clutch performer last season was Skinner, who tied Aho with seven game-winning goals.
Eichel edged out Aho when it came to PPP last season. He scored 26 points to Aho’s 24, and his eight power-play goals beat Aho’s three. The Sabres and Hurricanes were both middle-of-the-pack teams when it came to power-play percentage, but Buffalo’s was a little bit better during the regular season at 19.5 percent. Carolina’s power play was 20th in the regular season, but fell off the edge of the precipice in the playoffs last year and is in major need of a rehaul. For Buffalo, having two dynamic finishers in Eichel and Skinner gives Buffalo’s power play a little more unpredictability and also helps open Eichel up to unleash his signature snipes and deadly one-timers.
For advanced scoring formats, we will factor in short-handed points (SHP), shots on goal (SOG), time-on-ice (TOI), hits, and blocks.
When it comes to SHP, there’s only one choice here. Eichel is not a regular penalty killer for Buffalo, but over in Raleigh, Aho is a jack of all trades. He averaged just over one minute of shorthanded TOI per game, which doesn’t sound like much, but he certainly made the most of it. His positioning and awareness, combined with a quick stick and blazing acceleration allows him to turn the puck over and create chances for himself on the penalty kill. He potted four shorthanded goals last season to go along with one shorthanded assist. Only three players in the NHL last season scored more shorthanded goals than Aho, making him an excellent player to have on your team for getting help in that tricky category.
Shots on Goal
One of only six players to hit the 300-shot mark last season, Eichel takes the cake as one of the best fantasy options available in terms of shots. Eichel has averaged roughly four shots per game over the past three seasons. Aho, who registered 243 last season, is still going to give your team a healthy dose of shots to pad your fantasy numbers, but in comparison, Eichel is the no-brainer choice.
Seventeen seconds was the difference in TOI between Eichel and Aho last season, who both logged just over 20 minutes per game. Even without regular penalty-kill minutes, Eichel slightly beat out Aho in this category. Buffalo likes to load up its top line with heavy minutes, while Carolina rolls four lines a bit more evenly. Aho and Eichel both led their teams in ice time among forwards, and in doing so, will be good choices if your league counts TOI. Both players are relied upon heavily by their teams.
Hits and Blocks
It’s always an added bonus when a top offensive player can also fill out the hits and blocks categories, but that isn’t quite the case with Aho or Eichel. Aho had 65 hits and 34 blocks, and Eichel had 70 hits and 51 blocks over the course of last season. Both centers actually set career highs in those categories, which could simply be attributed to an increase in ice-time. But, Eichel has averaged more over his four-year career, and he plays with more of a physical edge, so the 6-foot-2 American will get you a little bit more value in this aspect.
Who to Pick
Aho’s fantasy value continues to skyrocket year after year. In his three years in the NHL, his point totals have increased roughly 30 percent each season. Though that trend is unsustainable forever, another mere 20 percent increase would have him capable of reaching the 100-point plateau.
While Eichel has produced at a higher point-per-game pace than Aho throughout his career, he has yet to play a full 82-game season. If he’s able to stay healthy and durable, it’s possible he edges out Aho in points next season. With the categories of shots and power-play points already in Eichel’s corner and a higher points-per-game average throughout his career, he is – by a hair – the favorite in most fantasy league formats.
Aho strikes some specific columns like shorthanded points, plus/minus and the possibility of center/wing eligibility, which can all be a huge advantage to have on your team. Overall, Eichel has slightly more value if you’re not already overloaded on centers. You can’t go wrong with either player however, it’s the categories you’re looking to fill that should guide your decision.
Matt Cosman is a Sheridan College print journalism graduate from Oakville, Ontario. I’ve been with THW since 2019 covering the Carolina Hurricanes, one of my favorite childhood teams. When I’m not in my hockey bubble you can probably catch me jamming out on the piano or losing money at the poker tables.