Islanders’ Sebastian Aho Will Need to Step Up Next Season

Sebastian Aho is a budding star who scored 38 goals last season, ranked 6th in the NHL. In his four-year NHL career, the 25-year-old Finn has established himself as one of the top centers in the league and one of the best players on a promising Carolina Hurricanes team.

Sebastian Aho Carolina Hurricanes
In just four NHL seasons, Aho has already become one of the top scorers in the NHL and helped the ‘Canes reach the Eastern Conference Final in 2019. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, if you’re a New York Islanders fan, you might want to focus your attention on a defenseman with the same name. The Isles’ Sebastian Aho is far from a household name but could soon become more known. After some changes to the roster this offseason (trading Devon Toews, signing Cory Schneider), Islanders fans might want to start paying attention to the 24-year-old Swede in their system. Aho could play a pivotal role in the team’s success next season.

Who is Sebastian Aho?

Aho was drafted in the 2017 NHL Draft in the 5th round by the Islanders. After years of developing in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), there was hope that he would emerge as a viable defenseman.

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Unfortunately, his first season indicated that he still needed to develop and work on his technique before coming back to the NHL. In 22 regular-season games in 2017-18, Aho finished with a minus-5 rating and disappointed in many statistical categories. It resulted in them sending him to their AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers where he has impressed in the last two seasons, making the 2019 AHL All-Star game in the process.

Sebastian Aho New York Islanders
At age 22 and 170 pounds, Aho looked unprepared and undersized for the NHL level. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This offseason, the Islanders re-signed Aho to a two-year, $1.4 million deal, with the expectation that he would join the team next season. There is more than enough reason to believe that if he is brought up this season, he will fare significantly better than he did in his rookie year. Not only is he now more prepared for the NHL, but the team is in a much better situation to allow him to thrive on one of the bottom defensive pairings.

The Islanders Offseason Places more Pressure on the Current Defense

Toews’ departure leaves more pressure on the defense heading into next season. He was a reliable third-pairing defender who also led one of the best power plays in the NHL last season. A young prospect will be called upon to help with the Islanders’ defensive depth.

Devon Toews - Islanders
Devon Toews displayed the ability to play two-way hockey in his breakout year last season. The Islanders will hope they find another defenseman surprises everyone in the upcoming season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Islanders also lost goaltender Thomas Greiss to free agency, who signed a two-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings. Semyon Varlamov’s backup was crucial in providing depth in the net in the last two seasons and the Islanders arguably wouldn’t have advanced past the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of the playoffs without him. The Islanders have two backups who can replace Greiss, but if Schneider and the 25-year-old Ilya Sorokin struggle, the defense will have to play better to cover for them. The Islanders have some of the best defensemen in the league, but the lower pairs have to have fans nervous. This is where we can see Aho in a significant role this season.

Islanders’ Depth on Defense

The Islanders have one of the best defenses in the NHL but depth can become an issue. Injuries and underachieving players are inevitable in the NHL and Aho’s performance on the bottom pair could be pivotal in maintaining the Islanders’ defensive success that we saw in recent years.

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Aho’s talent has improved since 2017-18 (his time in Bridgeport showed he has the technique to play defense at the NHL level). In addition, the coaching staff will find a way to improve him and help him thrive. Barry Trotz is a defensive-minded coach who enforces disciplined defense and smart play. With an improved defense and coaching staff, in addition to Aho showing improvements, there are more than enough reasons to be optimistic about him having a good year and become a viable asset for the Islanders defense.

Aho Is a Valuable Reinforcement in Case the Depth Struggles

The top prospect in the Islanders’ system is Noah Dobson, who will likely start on the third pair, filling the void left by Toews. Dobson should be fine in the role, but if he struggles, or in case of injuries, the Islanders will have to look for others to step up.

Noah Dobson New York Islanders
Noah Dobson, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

For these reasons, we can expect Aho to be crucial for the depth of the defense. Whether he will be playing on the third pair or rotating throughout the season is still unknown. It’s important for him to make a difference in any situation he is thrown into, proving he is ready for the NHL and capable of impacting the entire season. To say that the Islanders need him would be a bold statement for a team that reached the Eastern Conference Final. However, he can be a significant piece for a team that is searching for depth answers on defense.

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