With a 5-0-0 start to the season cementing the Carolina Hurricanes as a legitimate threat in the NHL’s 2021-22 season, a major component of the group’s early success is the steady growth and development of the its young core. At the center of it all lies their offensive cornerstone in Sebastian Aho, who’s evolved into a top talent in this league, and continues to show limitless potential at age 24. Having one legitimate superstar on your team is usually all you can ask for, but how many teams are lucky enough to have two?
Fortunately for the ‘Canes, they – quite literally – won the lottery in 2018 when they moved up from pick #13 to second overall at the 2018 NHL Draft, and selected Russian winger Andrei Svechnikov, which gave them another potential superstar in the making. He’s now 21 years old, and looks to really be finding his footing in the league after signing an 8-year contract extension with an $7.75 million AAV during the summer. Combined with Aho, they give the team two “face-of-the-franchise” type superstars, and currently form one of the most dangerous duos in hockey. Let’s take a look at each individual’s growth, and what they mean to the team’s success moving forward.
Andrei Svechnikov’s Emergence
Earlier in the week, Svechnikov was a topic on the first edition of THW’s Hurricanes Roundtable, as his play has forced both the fanbase and the league to take notice. Through five games, he looks to be somewhat of an unstoppable force — with five goals, nine points and a team-high plus-5 rating. His 24 shots on goal lead all Hurricanes skaters, and he’s done his damage playing just over 16 minutes a game, which ranks fifth among the team’s forwards.
He’s a kid with a relentless work ethic and total confidence in his abilities. Through the first five games of the season, it’s evident that he’s blossoming into a legitimate force. He’s using his power much more effectively, and his direct, physical style makes him a severe mismatch for a lot of defenders at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. As we’ve seen, his offensive IQ is off the charts, and he constantly finds dangers pockets of space to create havoc. His hands are deceptive and quick, and his release is like a cannon unleashed. He has multiple ways to beat a defense, and he uses them all consistently.
As of this writing, he’s on pace for an 82-goal season which, you know, might be a bit unrealistic. But considering his deployment on the team’s top power-play unit, as well as his role in the top-six alongside talented linemates like Vincent Trocheck, Martin Necas and Teuvo Teravainen, I really think he can score 35-40 goals as a 21-year old. He’s the closest thing to a true “sniper” on this Hurricanes team, and he can create offense for himself as well as anybody in hockey. As he continues to round out his frame and eventually learns how to consistently use his leverage to his advantage, he’ll become an absolute nightmare for opposing defenders — even more so than he already is.
The Importance of Sebastian Aho
In hindsight, it’s still quite hilarious to think back to the 2015 NHL Draft when the Hurricanes selected Aho in the second round. Not only was he selected way ahead of where he was projected, scouts and draft analysts alike on twitter had assumed the team drafted now-New York Islanders defenseman Sebastian Aho, of the same name. It just goes to show how much of a dice game the draft can be. He went from being a considerable “reach”, to arguably to biggest steal of the draft within a few years.
I’m sure the Hurricanes have zero regrets about the pick, as Aho has led their team in both goal scoring and points over each of the past four seasons. He’s become somewhat of the heart-and-soul of the team since his arrival from Karpat, and he’s become the team’s first true superstar talent since the Eric Staal era. He’s always been soft-spoken, but he’s emerged as a leader within the group and head coach Rod Brind’Amour awarded him with an assistant captain role for the 2021-22 season.
On the ice, he’s as complete of a player as you’ll find. He’s a legitimate all-situations guy for the team, as Brind’Amour trusts him in every phase of deployment. A true first-line center, Aho’s speed, hands and vision make him a threat any time he touches the puck. He’s morphed into one of the best penalty-killing forwards in hockey as well, with his 12 short-handed goals being tied for the most in the NHL since he debuted back in 2016. He’s scored at a 30-goal or higher pace in each of the past four seasons, and you can’t help but wonder how many more he could score if he’d stop shooting five-hole on every breakaway he gets. With seven points through five games, I could really see him approach 90 points by season’s end.
Establishing The Hurricanes As a True Contender
Obviously there’s credit due in a multitude of places, but the facts are facts — the Hurricanes have not missed the playoffs even once since pairing Aho and Svechnikov together in their forward group. The team’s coaching staff has done a marvelous job of deploying them in positions of strength, which in turn has led to increasing production and overall growth of their games. With both players under contract for the foreseeable future, the team figures to continue trending upwards and, hopefully, become legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
The fact that both players are signed long-term with very reasonable cap hits — $8.45 million for Aho and $7.75 million for Svechnikov — it gives the team ample cap space to build around the two of them and insulate the roster with additional talent. That’s allowed the Hurricanes to keep one of the deepest defensive groups in the league intact (for the most part) and add cost-effective, quality complimentary pieces like Trocheck and Nino Niederreiter. They’ve become a deep group that can rely on all facets of their roster, which has been a key to success for the majority of recent Stanley Cup winning teams.
Finally, the most exciting part about the entire situation is that neither guy has entered their prime years yet. At 24, Aho is starting to become more of a finished product but, with how much his game has evolved since entering the league, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he still has another level to reach. On the other hand, we surely have yet to see the best of Svechnikov, who continues to look more mature by the game. He has some obvious kinks in his game that he’s still ironing out (like his discipline), but he’s one of the premier young forwards in the NHL and he can only continue going up from here. Unquestionably, the Hurricanes are in phenomenal hands with these two leading the way, and the team’s future has never looked better.
Carolina Hurricanes writer. 23 years old. Ottawa, Canada. Prospect geek, hockey nerd.