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World Championship

Sebastian Aho of Hurricanes aims to raise profile at World Championship

Carolina forward playing for Finland, looking forward to second NHL season

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

PARIS -- The buzz around forward Sebastian Aho's rookie season with the Carolina Hurricanes was muffled by some of his first-year counterparts.

He didn't mind, though.

Aho, 19, understood what other NHL rookies, most notably center Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and forward Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets, were able to accomplish, and how he could use that to make himself better.

"For sure there was good competition, especially competing with Auston [Matthews] and Patrik [Laine]," Aho said. "It was good for me."

It was, understandably, a difficult year for Aho to get noticed, but he will try to find his way into the spotlight playing for Finland in the World Hockey Championship through May 21 in Paris and Cologne, Germany.

Matthews, the first pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, tied for second in the NHL and led all rookies with 40 goals to become the first first-year player to reach that mark in a season since Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals had 52 in 2005-06. Matthews, 19, led all rookies with 69 points and 279 shots on goal.

Laine, the second pick in 2016, was second among rookies and led the Jets with 36 goals and 64 points. His 36 goals are the most by an 18-year-old since Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins had 39 in 2005-06.

Matthews, Laine and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski are the finalists for the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL's top rookie.

Aho, who had a goal and an assist in Finland's 3-2 win against Belarus to open the World Championship on Friday, finished third among NHL rookies with 24 goals and fifth in points with 49.

"I don't think it bothers him," said Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner, who's playing for Canada. "It doesn't bother us. It doesn't bother us that he's a well-kept secret. We see him every day in practice. We know how good he is and what his potential is.

"We're excited to see him grow and watch him progress."

That progress was a process for Aho, who admittedly struggled through the opening quarter of his first NHL season. Though he had five assists in his first five games, he didn't score a goal until Nov. 12, his 14th game in the League.

"The first 20 games weren't that good," Aho said. "But after that I got some confidence and felt pretty comfortable. I started to play my own game after that, and I played pretty good the rest of the year."

Video: CAR@PHI: Aho blisters a PPG to even the game

Skinner can attest to that.

"It was a little bit of an adjustment for him, I think, coming over and playing on a different continent and different ice surface," he said. "But he's so smart. He's able to adapt quickly. I thought he did a great job for us and he only got better as the season went on.

"He's only going to continue to get better as his career goes on. It'll be exciting to watch that."

Aho's first season in North America began long before he played his first NHL game on Oct. 13. By then he had already represented Finland at the 2016 World Championship and again at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in September.

He credits those events for setting up his successful first season with the Hurricanes.

"It helped me learn to play in the NHL," Aho said. "There were many NHL players and I played all right against them. It gave me some confidence from there. You get some confidence when you play for the first time against NHL players and you see you can play that game and play at that level.

"It's important you can see you can play against them. It was good."

As part of a young core with forwards Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm and Teuvo Teravainen, Aho hopes to help Carolina qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs next season, something they haven't done since 2009.

"I think we have a good, young team," he said. "We have so many guys who can take the next step to help us be even better next year.

"I think it might've been too early this year. Next year we'll be ready."


Results from Saturday:

Sweden 7, Germany 2: Forward William Nylander (Toronto Maple Leafs) had two goals and an assist and forwards Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado Avalanche) and Rask (Hurricanes) each had a goal and two assists to power Sweden in a Group A preliminary round game at Lanxess Arena in Cologne.

Czech Republic 6, Belarus 1: Forward Jakub Voracek (Philadelphia Flyers) had a goal and two assists, and defensemen Radko Gudas (Flyers) and Michal Kempny (Chicago Blackhawks) also scored in the Czech Republic's victory in a Group B preliminary round game at AccorHotels Arena in Paris.

Slovakia 3, Italy 2: Defenseman Peter Ceresnak scored the winning goal in the third period for Slovakia in a Group A preliminary round game at Lanxess Arena in Cologne.

Norway 3, France 2: Forward Patrick Thoresen had two goals and an assist for Norway in a Group B preliminary round game in Paris.

Switzerland 5, Slovenia 4 (SO): Damien Brunner scored the only goal in the shootout to lift Switzerland in a Group A preliminary round game in Cologne.

Latvia 3, Denmark 0: Goaltender Elvis Merzlikins made 27 saves for Latvia in a Group B preliminary round game in Paris.

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