Rebuilds take time and even though the Carolina Hurricanes have assembled an excellent collection of youth on the blueline, the forward corps is still a work in progress. But the team got a great boost this season with the addition of Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, a pair of young Finns whose resumes are pretty thick for a couple of kids. And while Carolina may not make the post-season this year, they'll have a good foundation of winners once they do hit that benchmark.
Both players – plus linemate Jordan Staal – have been possession demons so far and they're not doing it against a bunch of plugs. In Tuesday night's 1-0 victory over San Jose, the line played most of its 5-on-5 time against stars Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. And the Carolina boys still dominated, with an average Corsi For/Against score of 23-6 overall in the game.
Aho came to the team through the draft, getting picked up 35th overall in 2015. He stayed back home in Finland and suited up again for Karpat Oulu, where he had already helped the squad win the SM-Liiga championship – notching the Game 7 overtime winner in the process. But Aho is probably known better for his work at the world juniors last year, where he centered a line between Patrik Line and Jesse Puljujarvi en route to the gold medal. Aho was the brains and conscience of the trio and his performance was even more impressive when you remember that he's actually a winger, not a natural pivot.
So while the quiet killer got some advice on living in Carolina from Canes alumni Jussi Jokinen and Joni Pitkanen, Aho was ready to join the NHL this season – he had the trophies to prove it.
“Of course those experiences are important," he said. "When you play in tough games, you go to the next level and you know you can play those games.”
Teravainen knew about Aho and got a sneak peak at his new teammate when both suited up for Finland at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto. The team ended up falling flat on its face, but at least bonds were beginning to form.
“He’s a really smart player," Teravainen said. "He brings pretty much everything – he sees the ice well and his overall skills are good.”
Teravainen's path to Carolina came through what is becoming a bit of a tradition lately – traded from Chicago because of the Blackhawks' cap situation. Carolina was the beneficiary this time, netting the talented playmaker for basically nothing (a couple of draft selections the Hurricanes didn't need). The left winger had already won a Stanley Cup with Chicago, plus he also steered Finland to world junior gold, two years prior to Aho's heroics. Like his countrymate, Teravainen's confidence has been boosted by his title runs.
“You can learn a lot from the experience," he said. "How to play those one-goal games, how to play in tough situations. It’s fun to play those games. When you learn to win, you want to learn even more and you hate to lose even more. You want to get there again.”
And while Chicago still looks like a Cup contender, Carolina will need some time. The team doesn't have a high-end offensive center, nor is there one in the system. But a lottery pick this summer could fix that for the near future and a lot of other nice pieces are in place. While rebuilt teams often stumble in their first playoff foray, the Canes will at least have a nice base of players who have been there before (Staal of course has a Cup ring from his Pittsburgh days).
Aho and Teravainen aren't big talkers and they're not big guys. But both can sway a hockey game and I have a feeling that'll be just fine with Carolina fans.