This time of the year is, for many prospects eligible for the NHL entry draft, filled with both excitement and horror. As soon as the picks are done they know that people tend to quickly forget the names that never got called. And no one wants to become that forgotten player. Just ask Sebastian Aho.
The talented Skellefteå defenseman, not to be confused with the Carolina Hurricanes prospect from Finland bearing the same name, made his debut in the Swedish Hockey League at the age of 16. Later that season he won the SHL playoffs. Since then four years has passed, Sebastian Aho has added another domestic title to his record and a silver medal with Sweden from the 2015 World Junior Championship, where he was noted for 12 points in 17 games. Nonetheless, Aho still remains undrafted.
The more you contemplate the 20-year-old Swede’s potential and capacity, the stranger it seems that he is yet to be acknowledged by an NHL organization. You almost become conspiratorial. Are there any unspoken reasons to why every single team has refrained from Aho in the last two drafts when he has been eligible? What has he done wrong?
Sebastian Aho himself has no answer. After the first time he was rejected, in the 2014 entry draft, he expressed some criticism in an uncensored manner. “Of course I am upset and disappointed”, Aho said at the time. “I thought that I had made a good enough season to be drafted and I had talked to a lot of people who were positive. But in the end it was many that chickened out.”
Note that those words came out of Aho’s mouth after only the first time he was neglected. I hardly think he was more forgiving the second time around.
En av dom bästa backarna i sitt 3e SM-slutspel som 19 åring, draftad? Näääädå han är ju KORT!!! #logik
— Axel Holmström (@axelholma) April 17, 2016
Aho’s teammate and good friend at Skellefteå, Axel Holmström, drafted by the Detroit Red Wings, tweeted in Swedish: “One of the best defensemen in his 3rd SM-playoffs at 19 years old, drafted? No ’cause he’s SHORT!!! #logic”
#SHL: Aho's having a good season for Skelleftea (SHL). An undersized double-overager but ranked No. 181 in The Draft Analyst's Top 250
— The Draft Analyst (@TheDraftAnalyst) December 23, 2015
An issue of height
Evidently, there is a large portion of the top NHL sphere that oppose Sebastian Aho being in the world’s best hockey league. Most of them have argued that with his size of 5’10’’ and 176 lbs, Aho simply does not measure up to get to play with the big dogs. Somehow they seem certain that the defenseman’s quickness, intelligence of play and tender stick-technique would never suffice. Because he is too short. Apparently.
I mean, what year is it? Didn’t we agree decades ago that a player’s size rarely should be a cause for condemnation in hockey? Any other argument I could have accepted, but not this – especially considering Aho’s size obviously has not held him back on the ice. On the contrary, I would say, his size has enhanced his game and helped him to become that flexible offensive D-man that characterizes him.
The “too small”-nonsense should therefore be scrapped as soon as possible. Otherwise, if anything, think about the message it sends to young boys and girls all over the globe who love the game. Give up if your genes fail you; it does not matter how good you are.
Will This Be Aho’s Year?
Of course Sebastian Aho still has the opportunity to make it to the NHL, although it is odd that he still has not been invited by any particular club. His hopes, however, surely remains optimistic about this summer’s NHL entry draft as the turning point of his somewhat inexplicable unattractiveness in the eyes of the big decision makers. Third time’s a charm, some say. And Aho probably wishes more than anything for it to be true.
But realistically, what are his chances?
Well, there are a few different aspects of this. On the one hand, Aho is, as usual, in the talks among experts about which prospects that are expected to get picked in the draft. For instance, NHL.com ranks Aho at 48th place out of all the European skaters eligible for this year’s pick. If this proves to be accurate, the Swede will most definitely be drafted this time.
On the other hand, if you look at Sebastian Aho’s performances over the course of this season, nothing spectacular has happened really. He has not gone backwards – not at all. However, he has not gone forwards as clearly as many people had hoped either. For that reason, would he get drafted this year, it would not be for his recent progress, rather the results and accomplishments of his last three seasons combined.
And if you ask me, the latter is always reason enough to choose Sebastian Aho.
Freelance sports journalist settled in Malmo, Sweden. Author on the official site of the Swedish Hockey League. Cover Swedish prospects on their road to the NHL, and Swedish players making it in the NHL.