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Aube-Kubel Not Taking Advancement for Granted

Nic Aube-Kubel blossomed in 2019-20 under a new coaching regime and fresh start

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

Post-Skate Interview: AUBE-KUBEL

Aube-kubel speaks to media regarding return to play

Nicolas Aube-kubel speaks to the media regarding the NHL Return To Play plan.

  • 04:02 •

Originally selected by the Flyers in the 2nd round (48th overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft, Flyers right winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel has learned that the road to the National Hockey League can be bumpy. Things can also change in a hurry, for better or worse. 

During the 2018-19 season, Aube-Kubel made his NHL debut during the first half of the season. He dressed in a total of nine games in late October to mid-November for former head coach Dave Hakstol only skated more than nine shifts once (11 shifts in Los Angeles on Nov. 1, 2018) and never logged more than 8:01 of ice time (same game). In seven of the nine games, he skated less than six minutes.

"Last year, I didn't really get a good chance to show what I could do. It was a different situation," he said on Feb. 25, 2020. "It was exciting to be called up. But you want an opportunity to play."

Aube-Kubel did not earn a return trip to the Flyers last season, in part due to having an injury-plagued campaign that saw him miss time with a knee injury and a concussion. He posted 16 goals and 30 points in 54 American Hockey League games for the Phantoms.

"To be honest, I wasn't playing at my best at the end of last season. Yeah, there were injuries but I don't want to use an excuse. I knew I had to have a really good offseason and turn the page," he recalled.

A restricted free agent last summer, the Flyers resigned Aube-Kubel to a one-year, two-way contract for the 2019-20 season. With a new NHL coaching regime in place with the Flyers, the fourth year pro expressed a desire at the start the season with a fresh slate. 

Unfortunately, the player did not earn an NHL roster spot out of training camp. He was beaten out by winger Carsen Twarynski and center Connor Bunnaman, who were both part of the Flyers' season-opening roster. No longer on an entry-level contact, Aube-Kubel had to pass through waivers before the Flyers assigned him back to the Phantoms.

"I thought I played pretty good in camp, but you can always do better. There's a numbers game, and it's a long season. So that's what I tried to focus on," he said on Feb. 25.

From an offensive production standpoint,Aube-Kubel did not get off to the kind of start with the Phantoms this season that he would have hoped to see. His underlying puck possession metrics were strong, but he struggled to finish scoring chances (5g, 3a) in 26 games. 

In mid-November, Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon said that Aube-Kubel had played into some tough luck offensively. However, he also felt that greater overall consistency in attention-to-detail was needed from a player with his accumulated experience of nearly 230 games in the American Hockey League. The coach even scratched Aube-Kubel for one game.

Although his scoring numbers didn't show it (one point in his final five games in Lehigh Valley), Aube-Kubel started to come around near the end of his AHL time this season. With the Flyers dealing with several injuries and reeling from the news that burgeoning young left winger Oskar Lindblom had been diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, the team recalled Aube-Kubel to the NHL on Dec. 15, 2019.

Determined to make the most of his second NHL recall, Aube-Kubel focused on bringing his "A" game -- a physical brand of hard-skating, hard-forechecking hockey with some offensive upside -- to the table. In turn, he made a favorable impression on Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault.

The player, who turned 24 on May 10, averaged 11:17 of ice time in 36 games for the Flyers this year, including periodic second power play unit and penalty killing duties. Offensively, he chipped in seven goals and 15 points. 

Aube-Kubel has forged a close relationship with Flyers assistant coach Ian Laperriere. "Lappy" has been a confidant as needed, but also someone who will cajole and push the player as needed to help keep him on track to play a high-energy, north-south game. Head coach Alain Vigneault has rewarded Aube-Kubel with increased ice time and some opportunities to play a little higher in the lineup. Assistant coach Michel Therrien has also delivered some tough-love coaching at times. 

"Yeah, it's a really good coaching staff here; a veteran staff. I'm definitely grateful for the opportunity they've given me this season," Aube-Kubel said on Feb. 25.

There have been some learning opportunities for Aube-Kubel at the NHL level. For example, he lost a defensive zone coverage on the game-tying goal scored by the St, Louis Blues on Jan. 15; a game the Flyers later won in overtime, 4-3. The very next night, however, Aube-Kubel was right back in the lineup and skated 13:13 of time. 

Aube-Kubel's forechecking tenacity is one of his calling cards. After his NHL recall this season, Aube-Kubel was on the positive side of the individual Corsi (50.3 percent), Fenwick (53.1 percent), standard plus-minus (+1), power plays created vs. penalties taken ratio (9-to-5, +4), and takeaways-to-giveaways ratio (13-to-9).

Additionally, among all Flyers players who appeared in 20 or more games this season, Aube-Kubel led the team with an average of 12.1 credited hits per 60 minutes played. Overall, he was credited with 82 hits in his 36 games.

"There's a role for me here now, and I am getting an opportunity. I like playing physical, and I think I can also score, too," he said on Feb. 25.

Shortly before the NHL season was paused due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Aube-Kubel strung together his first offensive hot streak at the sport's top level. 
He rattled off a five-game point streak (2g, 3a) between Feb. 25 and March 5. Unfortunately, on March 12, the momentum of both the player and the team came to an abrupt halt due to the pandemic-related stoppage.

On June 8, the NHL finally moved from Phase 1 (quarantine) to Phase 2 (informal workouts) of the league's return-to-play plan. Aube-Kubel returned to the Skate Zone in Voorhees two weeks ago. After being tested for Covid-19, he skated for the first time on June 12. Last week, he put in his first full week on on-ice workouts.

Aube-Kubel understands that he will have to reset his game after a three-month stoppage. He understands what he has to do to regain the form he showed before the stoppage; the challenge will be to do it as quickly as possible.

"I feel like in the NHL, it's easier if I focus on one task and focus on one job and do simple stuff," Aube-Kubel said on June 19 to Flyers senior director of communications Zack Hill.

Despite his strong run with the big team Aube-Kubel said that he feels he hasn't truly proven himself yet in the NHL. He can't take for granted that he's in the Flyers' lineup to stay.

"It's hard to say that because I only played half a season. For sure, I'll see after the playoffs. Hopefully we make a statement in those playoffs and I get my spot for next year," Aube-Kubel said to Hill.

A strong playoff run would be the perfect way for Aube-Kubel to put an exclamation point on the season that saw him get his first extended look in the NHL. He is a restricted free agent again during the 2020 offseason. 

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