Isles sign Sebastian Aho to two-year contract
Swedish defenseman is a three-time AHL All-Star
While preparing for this week’s NHL Draft and awaiting replies from his restricted free agents regarding their respective qualifying offers, New York Islanders team president Lou Lamoriello did manage to take care of some business Monday.
The reigning NHL General Manager of the Year signed prospect Sebastian Aho to a two-year contract, making the budding defenseman the first of the franchise’s RFAs to return to the Brooklyn/Long Island-based franchise.
Lamoriello, who helped the Isles reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1993 last month before they were eliminated in six games by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, is still waiting for answers from Mathew Barzal, Ryan Pulock and several others.
But Aho, whom the Isles selected in the fifth round of the 2017 draft out of Umea, Sweden, where he spent several years in the Swedish Hockey League, is back in the fold and ready to make the jump to the NHL after three consecutive All-Star selections in the American Hockey League.
The 24-year-old blueliner amassed 30 points, including three goals, in 49 games last season at the team’s AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Aho also led all Sound Tigers defensemen in points for the third straight campaign and was second on the team in assists for the second consecutive year.
In 156 career AHL games, Aho has 105 points, including 21 goals. He has also helped fill in on the NHL level intermittently, picking up a goal and two assists in 22 games during the 2017-18 season.
He made his NHL debut on New Year’s Eve of that year and scored his first, and thus far only, goal on Jan. 7, 2018 vs. New Jersey.
During his time in Sweden, Aho spent four seasons with Skelleftea of the SHL, piling up 55 points over 130 games. He had a goal and four assists in 21 games during Skelleftea’s run to the league championship in 2014.
Aho represented Sweden at the 2015 World Junior Championship, where he recorded four points in helping Sweden reach the semifinals. He also played for Sweden at the 2013 and 2014 Under-18 World Junior Championships.
While keeping Aho was easy enough, Lamoriello is still waiting to see if he can bring back Barzal, arguably the team’s best player and brightest star, and Pulock along with fellow RFAs Devon Toews, Kyle Burroughs, Josh Ho-Sang, Grant Hutton, Mitch Vande Sompel, and Parker Wotherspoon.
The Jim Gregory Award winner as the sport’s top executive indicated last week that he is trying his best to maintain a sense of continuity for a team that flirted with its first Stanley Cup Finals berth since 1984 at the NHL’s bubble sites in Toronto and Edmonton.
“I’m focusing in on communication with each and every one of our restricted free agents and unrestricted free agents and seeing what we can get done,” Lamoriello said last week. “I feel like we’ll get all of our players signed in due time.”
Unrestricted free agents like Matt Martin, Thomas Greiss, Andy Greene and Derick Brassard are more likely to get sorted following the draft and after most of the RFAs are dealt with.
Though Barzal is the top priority and has been since the Isles’ playoff elimination, Lamoriello knows the importance of keeping a team that is clearly on its way to seriously competing for a title intact.
“It wasn’t just one player or two players or three players, the whole roster participated in whatever success we did that in getting to where we found ourselves, a game or two from playing in the Finals,” Lamoriello said.
“The good feeling that each and every player had for each other when a player scored an overtime goal, or made a big defensive play, or the excitement that the goalie who didn’t play had for the person who was in the net. Those are the things that were really gratifying that this was really a team.”
With the market for unrestricted free agents officially open on Friday and the draft underway Tuesday night into Wednesday evening, Lamoriello finds himself much busier this week than he did while the Isles were chasing their fifth Stanley Cup in September.
That pursuit continues as the Isles dive into the biggest offseason in their recent history.
“I think we have to simply continue to do what we have been doing, just focus one game at a time and each one of our players realizing what his role is, accepting it and putting it together,” Lamoriello said.
“Allowing the end result to take care of itself and not looking beyond that.”
Isle Have Another: Due to Lamoriello’s trade-deadline deal for veteran center Jean-Gabriel Pageau this past season, the Isles lost both their first- and second-round pick in this year’s draft. They will choose 90th overall (third round) and then make the 121st pick in the fourth round. New York will also have picks in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds Wednesday.
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