The New Jersey Devils recently resigned last year's most prolific passer on defense, the ageing Marek Zidlicky. As was argued quite effectively by Ryan and others on this site, he needed to be resigned simply because of his ability to dish the puck and generate offense. Well today's prospect, Sebastian Aho, is an up and coming defenseman who also excels at moving the puck around and setting his teammates up. He can even attack the net if need be, a talent that is sorely needed on the Devils' blue line. However, there is one main shortcoming, one that could severely hurt his potential to be drafted high or become a truly successful defenseman in the NHL.
Who is Sebastian Aho?
According to the web, Sebastian Aho is an 18 year old Swedish native who stands at 5'9" and weighs 165 pounds. Yes, you read that correctly. He is 5'9" and weighs 165 pounds. Right off the bat, you may already be weary of drafting such a player. I know I was when I first read up on him. That size is questionable for a speedy forward to succeed in the NHL, never mind a defenseman who needs some weight to push attackers off the puck and away from the net. In fact, the smallest devils defense prospect, as mentioned on the team's official website, is Joe Faust, who stands 5'11" and weighs 190 pounds. That difference of 2 inches and 25 pounds is certainly disconcerting.
Despite his small stature, however, he still generates high accolades from talent evaluators. The reasons for this-his excellent puck moving abilities, strong work ethic and athleticism-will be discussed in detail in just a little bit.
Aho has played his entire career in the Swedish system, most of it with Skelleftea, of whom he has been with since the 2011-2012 season. He has also played internationally with Sweden's U16, U17 and U18 teams, where he has consistently been either a captain or assistant captain. This leadership quality only aids in Sebastian's draft outlook.
As you can see from the statistics above, Aho has had a decently good career at Skelleftea and international juniors. He was highly consistent between internationals and the SuperElit league (the highest level of junior hockey in Sweden), posting 0.53 points per game in the former and 0.54 in the latter. While these numbers do not jump off the page at you, it is worth noting that he moved up from the U18 junior hockey league in Sweden to the SuperElit league early in the 2012-2013 season, meaning that he was only 16 at the time. And not only did he do that, but he then proceeded to produce 12 points in 38 games that season in the SuperElit league. The following year, after acclimating to the higher talent level, he produced a season of 23 points in 27 games while only 17-18 years old. The jump up to the SHL, Sweden's highest league, was not the best for him. He produced only 5 points and 1 goal in 21 games during the 2013-2014 campaign. Considering his young age, however, and playing with those who were older than him, the production seen so far in his career is nothing to shrug your shoulders at.
What Others Have Said About Aho
As mentioned above, Aho has received fairly positive praise from talent evaluators and scouts. Future Considerations, a draft website, has this to say about the Swede:
Aho is a small but skilled puck moving defenseman who can make a strong multi-zone stretch pass or who can skate the puck up ice on the attack himself. Defensively he is not afraid to play physical or block shots. Size is an ongoing concern. (November 2013)
Their short blurb essentially sums up what most people say about him. He is an athletic defenseman who has an excellent ability to set up his teammates and is not afraid to push his weight around. However, the main concern about him is his size. If he can grow a little more, hit the gym and put some size on, his potential would grow substantially.
Another prospects website, Hockey's Future, wrote this about Aho:
Sebastian Aho, not to be confused with the Finnish forward with the same name (no relation), is a highly-skilled but undersized puck moving defenseman. Offensively inclined he plays with a competitiveness that belies his size and is willing to block shots or passes if necessary. Physically over-matched at times, his talent level make him a legitimate prospect.
Aho's high talent level makes him an intriguing prospect despite his small stature. While he will be challenged by the bigger and faster players at the NHL level his skill set suggests he could be an effective puck moving defenseman and power play quarterback in the future.
This website is more positive about him, claiming that despite his size, he still has a high enough talent level that he can be a legitimate NHL player one day. It also praises his ability to lead a power play, something the Devils can certainly use once Zidlicky leaves. Hockey's Future really talks up his offensive game, something that is important if the Devils were to use a pick on Aho. With young defensive talent on the roster that does not always think offense-the main exception being Eric Gelinas-another defenseman who can help to light the lamps would be extremely valuable to this organization.
Dobber Prospects, a website that is devoted to hockey up and comers, had this to say about the defenseman last month:
The most interesting thing that I took from that profile is the term "dominate possession." The Devils are a strong possession team, and any player that can come in and aid in the team's ability to drive possession numbers is someone that the team will strongly look into. Add that to the "skill and leadership abilities" that Aho possesses, and he seems to be a strong prospect that the Devils could take to add to their already promising defensive prospect pool.
In terms of rankings, Central Scouting had Aho ranked as the 9th best international skater at midyear prior to this draft. Final rankings still have him sitting in a similar position. This bodes well for Sebastian, as he is situated in the rankings around some potentially higher draft targets like Czech winger Ondrej Kase, who John predicts will be drafted in the first two rounds. Only three spots higher than Aho is fellow Swede Adrian Kempe, who has a strong chance of being a first rounder.
Despite his high ranking, however, Aho has generated very interesting-and rather negative-projections in terms of where he will be drafted. One website, The Hockey Writers, has Aho projected to go in the 4th or 5th round, much later than his Central Scouting ranking would suggest. Craig Button, analyst for TSN, does not even have Aho in his top 100 list, which he updated on June 3rd. Considering that pick 100 is in the 4th round, this is a really low projection for someone with considerable upside who has a good ranking coming into the draft. It is quite clear that despite high grades by analysts and scouts, many project that Aho will fall until at least the middle rounds due to size concerns.
A Little Video
Sadly, not much is out there that specifically highlights Sebastian Aho and his skillset. One video that I could find was of a shootout goal that he scored a few years ago. While it is short and does not prove much about the defenseman, it is nonetheless a breath of fresh air to show a successful shootout attempt on this website.
If you wish to check out more, you can go to YouTube and search any combination of "Sebastian Aho" and "Skelleftea" to find a couple highlights of games, although trying to pinpoint exactly who Aho is amongst the rest is quite difficult.
An Opinion of Sorts
At first when I was researching Sebastian Aho, I was not excited about the prospect of the Devils drafting him. The main reason for this was his size. Standing at 5'9" and weighing only 165 pounds really hampers his ability to succeed at the next level. While that size may work well enough at the junior level, once he is in the NHL he will be going up against those who are considerably bigger and stronger than him. And considering that he plays with some degree of physicality, his game may not transfer well at all.
The more I researched, however, the more I began to alter my thinking somewhat. Yes Aho is very undersized, but he has considerable skill on offense. He can distribute the puck very well and could be an excellent point man on the power play. Someone like this could possibly be paired with a prospect like Steve Santini. Santini, one of the newest highly touted prospects for the Devils, has been identified as a strong defensive defenseman. To pair him with someone like Aho might make for an interesting and possibly successful pairing. Also, Sebastian has great leadership qualities, which means that he is a strong character guy, something that is never bad to have on a team. But the best part about Aho is that he could be had on the cheap, if he indeed falls to the middle rounds as some are predicting.
In the end, I would not be all that happy if the Devils drafted him with one of their first two picks. I would much prefer to see forwards taken. If a defenseman is taken, however, I would like to see one drafted that comes without the high risk that Aho brings. However, if the Swede is still there for the taking with the Devils' third round pick, I would not be disappointed if the team took a chance on him. His skill, leadership, and strong possession capabilities make him an intriguing prospect, one with some serious upside if he can gain some weight. I mean hey, New Jersey took Brian Gionta with the 82nd pick in the 1998 draft, and I would say that turned out quite well despite his stature.
Now that you have read up on Sebastian Aho, what do you think about him? Should the Devils draft him with one of their first three picks? If he falls further, would you be happy if he is taken at all? Or instead, does the size scare you enough that you would not take him? Please leave your comments in the section below, and thank you for reading.