Nation Network Prospect Profiles: #31 Sebastian Aho

I wouldn’t blame you if you went looking for Sebastian Aho highlights on Youtube and got really confused. The top result over there appears to show a short Swedish d-man, and, well, it’s not a mistake. Sebastian Aho is a diminutive Swedish blueliner that’s eligible for his second entry draft this season.

But there’s another Sebastian Aho. This one is rated lower by NHL central scouting, but he’s much younger with a much more impressive statistical resume to his credit. This Finnish Aho has been tearing up the Liiga’s junior circuit for years before finally graduating to a full-time pro at an extremely young 17 years of age in 2015.

Join us after the jump for a look at one of Finland’s most dynamic young scorers.

Bio:


  • Age:  17.22 years old at the start of the season.  Born
    July 26, 1997.
  • Birthplace: Rauma, FIN
  • Position: LW
  • Frame: 5’11”, 172 lbs
  • Draft Year Team: Kärpät (Liiga)
  • Accomplishments: 2014 Jr. A SM-Liiga Rookie of the Year, 2014 Jr. A SM-Liiga Second Team All-Star, 2014 Jr. A SM-Liiga Silver Medal, 2015 World U18 Silver Medal, 2015 SM-Liiga Championship

Stats:

PCS% 2014 PCS Pts/82 2014 PCS% 2015 PCS Pts/82 2015
0.0% 0 38.5% 61.5
PCS Most NHL GP PCS Highest Pts/GP
Markus Naslund Peter Forsberg
Thomas Steen Thomas Steen
Sami Kapanen Markus Naslund

Scouts:

NHL CSS ISS FutureConsiderations HockeyProspect Pronman McKeen’s McKenzie Button
18 (EU) 61 N/A N/A 28 N/A Hon. Mention 50

From McKeen’s
Hockey
:

If you draft Aho, be sure to specify which Sebastian Aho you
are drafting, you want the Finnish player not the Swedish defender of the same
name (no relation).  Aho spent the past
season playing in the Finnish mens league and is under contract for one more
season, but may be NHL ready after that and cross the pond. Aho is a playmaker
with good offensive upside and vision who can plays a high energy game with
speed and finesse. The knock on him is he may not translate in North American
pro hockey.

From ESPN’s
Corey Pronman
:

[Aho] skates pretty well, and while he doesn’t have blazing
speed, it’s certainly above average and enough to pressure defensemen off the
rush. He’s a very skilled and smart offensive player who won’t make overly
flashy plays but makes quick, creative decisions and moves the puck very well.
His vision is high-end and can be a real threat on the power play.

Aho’s hockey IQ translates well to defense, where he’s shown during international play he can be quite effective, even when playing ahead of his age group. The main issue with Aho is his physical game.

Our Take:

Wherever Sebastian Aho has gone, he’s done nothing but score. He was one of only eight U-18 skaters to play a game in Finland’s top professional league this season per EliteProspects, and would have easily finished the year with the best scoring rate had it not been for Finland’s next super-prospect Jesse Puljujarvi besting Aho by 0.09 points per game. Last season, Aho was the highest scoring U18 player in Finland’s best junior league, and the 6th most prolific scorer overall. He accomplished both of these feats as a young 16 year old too, so he was well behind his competition in terms of physical development. The kid just scores like a star.

The big problem for Aho is that physical game. At 5’11, 170 lbs, he’s Claude Giroux-sized, but there are questions as to whether he’ll be able to handle the grinding physical play of North American defensemen. You don’t need to fight through checks at the NHL level as a small guy as much as you need to use your size to your advantage and get leverage on larger-bodied players, and create uncomfortable situations for defenders through positioning. If Aho’s good at the second part there, it may not even matter if he’s adept at the first.

If the 2015 playoffs taught us anything, it should be that size should be well down the list of stuff you’re considering when looking at a player. The play of the sub-6’0 trio of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat was integral to getting the Lightning to where they were, and if you’re still on the “you have to be big to succeed in the playoffs” bandwagon after Patrick Kane got his third Stanley Cup, I’d question when the last time you actually watched a hockey game was.

Certainly size was never an issue for Aho’s very closest statistical comparable per PCS: Markus Naslund. Being so young ans so relatively prolific in Finland’s top leagues, Aho actually kinda breaks PCS a bit and exposes some of the weaknesses of the model itself. Namely, if you only have a small sample of comparable players, one or two boundary guys can swing your projections by massive amounts.

For example, even if we assume that the Jr. A SM-Liiga and Superelit are in the ballpark of equivalent talent (as we have been doing so far in this series), Aho’s 16-year old season in the Jr. A SM-Liiga has no direct comparables. But, if we push the boundary of what we consider “similar” by even a tiny amount, all of a sudden both Daniel and Henrik Sedin show up as comparable players and Aho looks like a future superstar. Doing the same thing for this past season, we find names like Jari Kurri, both Sedins once again, but also Niklas Sundstrom and Anton Lander.

And even if Aho does make the NHL some time down the road, I would bet against him to reach the level of most of his PCS peers. 60+ points is closing in on elite-level offense these days, and while Aho possesses a very complete and well-rounded toolkit with significant offensive upside, he’s very likely not elite – hardly groundbreaking news to anyone. 

Still, Aho’s production in Finland goes beyond merely “very good” and hints at being deserving of a level of appreciation not quite given to him from the broader scouting community. There’s likely some top-6 upside on the table should Aho develop, and guys that produce like he has generally do so.