It would have been easy to count Sebastian Aho out of making the New York Islanders opening night roster. It would have even been understandable if Aho himself felt that it was a long shot.
The 25-year-old defenseman, who shares the same name as the Carolina Hurricanes star forward, has caught the short end of the stick since he was drafted in 2017 by the Islanders. While he got 22 games his first year after being selected, Aho has appeared in just three since the 2017-18 season.
All three of those came last year in which he averaged 13:21 of ice time.
But the frustration had never gotten the best of Aho, who went out this year and had a strong camp for the Islanders. It was his attitude that head coach Barry Trotz noticed and part of why he was on the Islanders 23-man roster that was submitted to the NHL on Monday.
“You can’t play at a high level, you can’t keep improving unless you have a really good attitude,” Trotz said. “I think that’s where it starts with Sebastian. I mean real good attitude, it starts there. He’s got a good work ethic and he’s got a good hockey IQ. Those three things don’t get in the way of his situation. He just continues to do what he needs to do so he’s ready when we call upon him.”
While Aho cleared one hurdle by just making the roster to begin with as the team’s seventh defenseman, his playing time will still be somewhat sporadic. Though he should see more playing as the Islanders navigate the waters of a full 82 game season with two defensemen who will likely need to have their minutes somewhat monitored.
Part of the issue for Sebastian Aho had been that the Islanders’ defensive depth chart was so deep it was tough to a chance to get him in the lineup. Aho only saw ice time in 2021 because Noah Dobson found himself sidelined briefly.
Even then Thomas Hickey eventually took that spot before Dobson returned. The Islanders also added depth defenseman, Brayden Coburn, at the deadline as well.
“Unfortunately last year we didn’t have any injuries on the back end,” Trotz said. “It was tough. We were rolling pretty good, our pairs were pretty solid. So he didn’t get a lot of time, but it hasn’t diminished his enthusiasm to play.”
What should keep the young defenseman motivated is the fact that he beat out Erik Gustafsson for a roster spot. Gustafsson, who was with the Islanders on a PTO, was viewed as the favorite to become the Islanders’ seventh defenseman.
Part of that had to do with the gymnastics the Islanders have been doing to remain under the salary cap. They likely didn’t have any room to add another contract, but the Islanders also felt confident in Aho’s ability to turn to him for this season as their extra defenseman.
Sebastian Aho hasn’t caught too many breaks when it’s come to his time playing on Long Island, but this season could be the turning point. Aho should see an increased role and more playing time, and the coaching staff has taken notice to what Aho has brought to the team since he was drafted.
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