Even if you happen to live in North Carolina, the average sports fan probably doesn’t hear or read much about the Carolina Hurricanes, which definitely means they know even less about Sebastian Aho.
If this happens to be you, or perhaps you don’t remember him much from last season’s brief (but wonderful) Conference Final, allow us to reintroduce you to the player Canes fans treasure.
At just 23, the diminutive center (some sites have him listed at 5’9” 160lbs, while others are more generous at 6’0” 176lbs) shines on a nightly basis at both ends of the arena. After breaking out in a big way last year, posting his first 30 goal season and adding 53 assists, Aho was again lighting the lamp on a regular basis, scoring 38 goals this season in just 68 games of action.
On the defensive side of things, Aho uses his hockey intelligence to play a big role on the Cane’s PK, scoring 4 shorthanded goals (tied for the league lead) while helping the Carolina boast the 4th best PK percentage (83.95%).
Aho’s advanced stats also lend credence to the idea that he has become one of the game’s best 200ft players, as his CF% of 57.0% was 12th in the league (for players appearing in 30+ games) and he was 4th in takeways.
Not only was the best player in that series, but he may have been the best player on any team during the qualifying round. Aho put up 8 points (3 goals and 5 assists) in just 3 games, including this ridiculous goal to help eliminate the Rangers:
Combined with rising star Andrei Svechnikov and the ultra-talented Teuvo Teravainen, the Bruins are certain to have their hands full with the Canes’ top line.
So how do the Bruins deal with Aho and the top line of the Hurricanes, you may be wondering?
1. Stop playing terrible hockey
Well that’s not completely fair to say, as the Bruins were much better against the Lightning and Capitals in their last two games. However, there’s still much room for improvement, especially when it comes to decision making with and without the puck.
2. Chara and McAvoy must return to being a number-one defense pairing
Expect these two to see a lot of Aho and his linemates, both at 5v5 and on the power play. McAvoy and Chara will have to be extremely careful with their positioning and pinches in order to keep Aho or his speedy linemates from getting behind them, and try the best they can to keep Aho and company on the perimeters of the offensive zone.
3. Fight fire with fire
The Bruins’ top line players were major contributors in last season’s sweep of the Canes, including a dominant Game 4 performance to close out the series which saw Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak combine for 8 points.
If the Bruins top guns are rolling, it will be hard to Aho and Carolina’s other lines (and really for any team) to keep up.
Unfortunately for Boston, through 3 round robin games and 1 exhibition match-up, we still haven’t seen this line reach it’s full potential yet.
4. Tuukka Rask will have to be sharp
No matter how well the Bruins’ defense plays or how good the top forwards of the Bruins are, Sebastian Aho is going to get his opportunities. He’s just too talented not to. Which is where Rask has to once again be on top of his game. Rask let in 5 goals in the 4 games of the playoff series last year with the Canes, which is pretty unreal. It’s hardly fair to expect the same type of dominance this series, but a subpar performance could sink the Bruins.
If you forgot how good Rask was last year, check out this video of him doing Rask things against the Canes last year:
With Game 1 just hours away, there are so many unanswered questions for the Boston Bruins.
Will the top line start producing? Will the defense pick up their game? Can the B’s power play find it’s groove?
But perhaps the biggest question the Bruins fans should be asking is how are the Bruins going to contain Sebastian Aho in this series?