The Carolina Hurricanes had a disappointing regular season that saw the team finish 10 points out of a wild-card spot, average attendance plummeted to a league-worst 12,200 per game and the off-season hasn’t been kind, either, with rumors of relocation and a lawsuit facing team owner Peter Karmanos, Jr.
There’s some good news for the Hurricanes to celebrate Monday, though, as GM Ron Francis announced the team has locked up top prospect Sebastian Aho to a three-year, entry-level deal. And come the opening night of the 2016-17 campaign, Aho should be donning a Hurricanes jersey and starting off what could end up being one of the most successful rookie campaign in Hurricanes history.
“Sebastian is regarded as one of the top prospects in hockey and is ready to begin his North American career,” Francis said in a release. “He had a tremendous season as an 18-year-old playing against men in Finland’s top league, and was outstanding in international competitions including the recent World Championship. He will play an important role for the Hurricanes moving forward.”
It might not take long for that “important role” to begin, either. During the World Championship, Aho was already impressing Francis, to the point that the Hurricanes GM was already thinking ahead to where the 18-year-old winger would fit in the lineup.
“I would think based on everything he’s done, he’s certainly penciled into our lineup, if not in pen,” Francis told the News & Observer’s Luke DeCock at the World Championship.
Taken by the Hurricanes in the second round, 35th overall, at the 2015 draft, Aho has vaulted ahead of some of the players he was selected after and has turned heads over the course of the past season. In Finland’s Liiga, Aho had an inspiring season with Karpat. In 45 games, he scored 20 goals and 45 points, making him the league’s ninth-highest scorer. That said, his point per game pace was the second-best scoring rate of any player in the league.
In THN’s Future Watch 2016 issue, a panel of scouts rated Aho as the 18th-best prospect in the league. He played, and excelled, playing between Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi at the World Junior Championship, and he looks like he’s ready for the challenge of playing against the world’s best in the NHL. But asked by DeCock in May whether the expectations surrounding Aho will be too much, Francis said the Hurricanes are being “real careful” in how they handle and play the youngster.
“He’s going to be fine,” Francis told DeCock. “We’re looking at big picture more than the short term with him. We don’t want to affect that big picture because he’s going to be a good, good player for the Hurricanes for a long time.”
That will all begin next season. And though much of the focus next season will be on Laine, Puljujarvi and Auston Matthews, Aho could be a dark horse candidate to beat out everyone for the Calder Trophy.