Sound Tigers Aho brings rookie lessons into second year
BRIDGEPORT — Sebastian Aho spent the back half of his first North American hockey season in the NHL. He hopes the lessons he learned there help him spend more than just that half a season up there with the New York Islanders.
“Mostly how to be as professional as I can be, doing everything as good as I can to try to improve every day, as well as off-ice,” Aho said after Wednesday’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers practice at Webster Bank Arena.
“Watching all the guys who have been in the league for 10, 15 years, how they take care of their body, what they eat, everything.”
Aho said he’d like to play a similar game to Nick Leddy’s, so he talked to the Islanders defenseman a lot, “watched what he did, how he got so good at what he does.”
Aho, 22, impressed after the Islanders picked him in the fifth round of the 2017 draft. He settled into the North American game quickly after coming over from Sweden. On Nov. 5, 2017, at Providence — Bridgeport’s opponent in a home-and-home this weekend — he became the first Sound Tigers defenseman to score three goals in a game.
Now, Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson wants to see him follow up that first year with strength in his own end.
“His mindset needs to be defend first, defend hard and use his feet to defend. That’s really been the message for us as a staff to him is defend with his feet and stick,” Thompson said.
“He still needs be able to be physically engaged. His asset is his skating and his puck-moving, so let’s bring that out. I think he’s done a nice job of it. We want to make sure his mindset is get that first pass tape-to-tape, execute the breakouts or transition, and then coming in the next wave. For the most part, he’s done that.”
Aho is listed at 5-foot-11 and 177 pounds; only 10 AHL defensemen are listed lighter. Like Leddy, another smallish defenseman at 6-0, 207, Aho can be a play driving defenseman who uses his speed and stick to gain possession of the puck.
“As far as box-outs, he’s not a big guy,” Thompson said, “but he needs to at least work his feet into those areas where they’ve got to get around him, where he has to tie their sticks up, or front. He’s got to use his stick and his feet to his advantage.”
Aho was a mainstay on the power play last year; 16 of the 29 points he earned in 40 AHL games came with the man advantage. He’s back on it again this year, getting penalty-kill time as well.
Bridgeport practiced special teams on Wednesday. The power play is 5-for-18, but “not as good as we want to be, for sure,” Aho said. “We’ve got really quality guys. With all the guys playing power play, we should score more.
“I feel like we are getting better every day. We had a really good practice. I feel both power plays took a step forward. We’ve just got to get the snowball rolling.”
Bridgeport added another veteran forward Wednesday afternoon when the Islanders announced they’d sent Stephen Gionta to the Sound Tigers.
Gionta, who turned 35 last week, signed with the Islanders on Saturday to fill in for the injured Casey Cizikas. Injuries shortened last season for Gionta in Bridgeport.
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