CANES

AHO OKAY WITH BE­ING MOVED BACK TO WING AF­TER PLAY­ING CEN­TER

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY CHIP ALEXAN­DER calexan­[email protected]­sob­server.com

The ques­tion to Se­bas­tian Aho was a sim­ple one: would he pre­fer to play cen­ter or wing?

The Carolina Hur­ri­canes for­ward wasn’t quite sure how to re­spond Fri­day, or so it seemed, mulling it over, want­ing to say the right thing.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Ob­vi­ously ... I don’t know.”

The Canes had put in their morn­ing skate at PNC Arena be­fore the Ana­heim Ducks game. Aho, af­ter cen­ter­ing a line the first 24 games of the season, would be the left winger with cen­ter Jor­dan Staal and winger Teuvo Ter­a­vainen as Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour brought the so-called “TSA” line from last year back to­gether.

“It’s the first time this year, but I played two whole years as a winger,” Aho said. “It’s not a new spot for me.

“Ac­tu­ally I don’t care. It’s up to Roddy where I play and who I play with. I’m happy with ‘Jordo’ and ‘Turbo.’ ”

Aho did spend nearly all of his first two NHL sea­sons on the wing, scor­ing 24 goals as a rookie in 2016-17 and 29 last season. If Brind’Amour had his druthers, Aho would have been there again to start this year.

But Vic­tor Rask sliced into two of his fin­gers with a kitchen knife just be­fore train­ing camp be­gan. Sud­denly down a cen­ter, Brind’Amour’s de­ci­sion was made for him: Aho would be in the mid­dle.

The early re­turns were sen­sa­tional. Cen­ter­ing a line with Ter­a­vainen and Micheal Fer­land, Aho had points in each of his first 12 games, the long­est season-open­ing point streak in fran­chise his­tory.

Aho had four goals in the first five games, then went 12 games with­out one. That streak ended Nov. 12 with his gamewin­ner against the Chicago Black­hawks in over­time, and he has three goals in the past eight games, seven for the season, and 26 points in 25 games over­all.

“I need to be bet­ter and I need to play bet­ter,” Aho said Fri­day. “Our line wasn’t good enough lately so it was time to change.”

With Rask back and play­ing and Lucas Wall­mark ca­pa­ble of be­ing bumped up to third-line cen­ter, and with Fer­land now side­lined with a con­cus­sion, Brind’Amour made the move.

“Jor­dan is such a good two-way cen­ter, so maybe that leaves more of­fense to me,” Aho said. “Ob­vi­ously I want to be a good two-way for­ward still and good in our end, too.”

Aho was on the ice Fri­day when the Ducks tied the score 1-1 late in reg­u­la­tion. He bat­tled with for­ward Rickard Rakell for the puck be­hind the Canes’ net, but Rakell came away with it and skated to the cor­ner be­fore cy­cling it back to Adam Hen­rique.

Hen­rique’s shot glanced off the stick of de­fense­man Calvin de Haan and popped into the air, where Pon­tus Aberg swat­ted it over the left shoul­der of goalie Cur­tis McEl­hin­ney and into the top cor­ner of the net. Weird play but a big goal.

Ryan Get­zlaf then won it for the Ducks in over­time, slip­ping free for a stretch pass and beat­ing McEl­hin­ney for the 2-1 win. That came af­ter Get­zlaf’s line had been con­tained much of the game by the Staal line.

Aho would get 21:36 in ice time, in­clud­ing more than six min­utes on the power play, and as­sisted on An­drei Svech­nikov’s first-pe­riod goal. With more of­fen­sive free­dom on the wing, Aho had a season-high six shots.

“I thought they were fine,” Brind’Amour said of the line. “Go­ing against Get­zlaf all night, they did a pretty nice job. Get­zlaf didn’t have too many op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Aho was a cen­ter through­out his ju­nior ca­reer in Fin­land and at cen­ter on Fin­nish in­ter­na­tional teams, most mem­o­rably with Patrik Laine and Jesse Pulju­jarvi on the wings in the 2016 World Ju­nior Cham­pi­onship. The Finns won the gold medal at home and the play­ers were treated like teen rock stars.

Is Aho’s long-term fu­ture in the NHL at cen­ter?

“We’ll see about that,” Aho said.

CHRIS SE­WARD AP

Carolina Hur­ri­canes’ Se­bas­tian Aho of Fin­land watches the ac­tion dur­ing the first pe­riod in Raleigh, N.C., on Oct. 20.

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