Sebastian Aho spent his first season in North American making a name for himself - or rather, separating himself from the other Sebastian Aho.
The focus in his second season? Becoming a steadier pro.
"Being consistent is what I've been working on," Aho said. "Not being streaky. Not having one great game and one worse game. For me, [consistency] starts in the defense. I've always been a defenseman, that comes pretty naturally. So, for me, I always try to take care of the defense first and then let the offense come as it may. If you put in the work down low, you usually get the chance up top."
Aho came into the season looking building off an impressive breakout rookie campaign with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. As a rookie, Aho put up 29 points (9G, 20A) in 40 games, was selected to represent the Sound Tigers in the 2018 AHL All Star Classic and earned a 22-game taste of the NHL with the Islanders, where he notched four points (1G, 3A).
As a sophomore, the puck-moving defenseman has only continued to improve his game and become a staple of Bridgeport's blueline. In 67 appearances during the regular season, Aho was tied for second in points among Bridgeport skaters with 46 (9G, 37A), and tied for seventh among AHL blueliners. The Umea, Sweden native quarterbacked the Sound Tigers power play and has scored four goals on the man-up this season.
"He's only [in his] second year in North America, but when you watch him play it feels like he's been here his whole life," Michael Dal Colle said. "He's so good with the puck and in his own zone. Obviously, he's a smaller guy, but he's good defensively. I think he's definitely been [Bridgeport's] best D. He's an unbelievable player."
He's proved to be "everything you could want in a defenseman," according to Bridgeport Head Coach Brent Thompson.
"He's just a solid hockey player," Thompson said. "He's got to be one of, if not the hardest workers day-in and day-out. He's done so well for us and continues to elevate his game. He's a guy that reads the game well and plays a full-200 foot, rounded out game. He anchors our power play. He gets some big minutes for us."
This season has marked some new experiences for Aho. He's currently playing in his first AHL playoff series - against the Hershey Bears, with one assist through three games. Aho also got to actually experience the AHL All-Star Classic after missing last year's due to a recall by the Islanders. This season, Aho joined Dal Colle at the all-star weekend in Springfield.
"I was pretty sad when I missed it last year, but it was for a good cause when I missed it last year," Aho said. "It was pretty fun being there and was nice to know that your being recognized with the best players in the league. It was fun to share the ice with them and put on a show for the audience."
At 5-foot-11 and 177-pounds, Aho's frame is on the small side for the physicality of the National Hockey League, but what Aho lacks in size, he makes up for with his exceptional hockey IQ and astute stickhandling. It's something his former teammate and current Islanders defenseman Devon Toews immediately noticed.
"The way he plays you forget about his size," Toews said. "He's just so skilled and smart on the puck that you don't always realize he's smaller. I think that just shows how well he's developed his game. He's almost made his [lack of] size an advantage with how good he can, not only get out of the gritty areas, but actually execute and make a play also."
Toews have worked his way into a regular spot on the Islanders blueline, which is the eventual goal for Aho. With nine defensemen on the Islanders roster, that didn't materialize this season for Aho, but he's committed to his improvement for when he'll get his next shot at the next level.
"Ultimately, the goal is to just keep evolving and keep becoming a better player," Aho said. "I've had a good time down here. We're playing good hockey. [I] just want to keep getting better in the tight spots down low and in the corners. Keep improving, keep battling and smooth out my game. I've been really happy to see [Dal Colle and Toews] get called up and do so well. I just want to be ready to take that next step."