Sebastian Aho knows what it’s like to play in the NHL. And the 23-year-old diminutive defenseman knows what it will take to make it back to the Islanders’ roster.
“You can’t afford to have an off-night, not even an off-shift,” said Aho, who had a 22-game stint with the Islanders in 2017-18. “That’s probably what I take away from that the most. If you’re not prepared, you’re going to get smoked.”
The 5-11, 177-pound, left-shooting Aho was paired with Noah Dobson, the organization’s top defense prospect, on Monday, the second day of the Islanders’ rookie camp. There’s a good chance those two will be paired for Wednesday night’s prospects game against the Flyers in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
The veterans report for training camp on Thursday, and Aho faces long odds in earning a spot on the Islanders’ opening-night roster with seven defensemen returning from last season’s playoff squad and the right-shooting Dobson only eligible to play in the NHL or for his junior hockey team.
“I just focus and try to play the game that’s gotten me here today and, obviously, I’m doing something right,” Aho said. “I’ve just got to keep doing that and all the other key components and be more of a player that has all the tools. I think it’s good we have such a broad talent pool. It makes people compete. When you compete, you’re going to get better.”
The Islanders selected the Swede in the fifth round in 2017. He split his first season in North America between Bridgeport in the AHL and the Islanders, making his NHL debut on Dec. 31, 2017, and compiling one goal and three assists in his 22 games.
Last season, Aho had nine goals and 37 assists in 67 games with Bridgeport and added two assists in five playoff games.
“He’s extremely smart,” said Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson, who is running the on-ice sessions at rookie camp. “He anticipates very well. His mobility and skating are huge assets. He really outthinks guys. He’s not going to knock a guy down but he’s usually in the right position.”
If Aho does start the season with Bridgeport, it will only motivate him further to earn a return trip to the NHL.
“The goal is to make the Islanders every year,” Aho said. “I was not disappointed [last year]. But, a little bit, you want to get revenge. You want to be with the best in the world.”
Notes & Quotes: Left wing Andrew Ladd (knee), who is not expected to be ready for the start of the season, participated in the veteran’s informal skate wearing an orange, non-contact jersey…First-round pick Simon Holmstrom (soreness), defenseman Bode Wilde (ankle) and center Bobo Carpenter (shoulder) remained off the ice at rookie camp.