Coming into this season, there was much uncertainty for a handful of Flyers’ prospects over at Lehigh Valley. Each of these guys were chomping at the bit to just be given one chance at the NHL level to prove themselves. One player that fell under this demographic was Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
The Flyers were juggling through a constant carousel of call-ups. NAK watched teammates Chris Stewart, Andy Andreoff, & Carsen Twarynski each get a chance at the last winger spot for Philly. Unfortunately, soon enough Oskar Lindblom was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma back on December 10th. After the Flyers lost Oskar, along with Scott Laughton to a groin injury, NAK finally got his chance.
Saturday afternoon, I had the opportunity to speak with Nic as he reflects on his past and discusses his time during the break in the NHL season.
Before the Flyers
Prior to joining Lehigh Valley, he played hockey with the Val-d’Or Foreurs of the QMJHL. While in Juniors, NAK was expected to be a scorer for his team and did not play much of a 200 feet game. Playing with the Foueurs from 2012-2016, NAK accumulated 244 points. This, of course, was good enough to earn him a spot with the Phantoms by the end of their 2015-2016 campaign.
Struggling to produce at the minor league level, Aube-Kubel knew he had to adjust to the speed of the pros.
“When I got to Allentown (Phantoms), I had to take on more of a checking role. I don’t want to say it was easier to score in Juniors, but it’s easier to be more dominant. I didn’t have to check before because I was always bigger, but my first year in the AHL and being scratched a couple of times forced me to be physical, so I kept that edge.“
Just as he stated, he had to restyle his play. He could produce at will prior, just like his team needed him to. However, his 5’11 frame required him to learn to shift his weight a little better. After a couple of years of struggling to be a key contributor for the Phantoms, he knew a new role was needed:
And after all, there would be a couple of spots available for his style of play – a bottom-six forward who could bring energy, speed, determination, and some potential secondary scoring to the lineup.
Coming into this offseason, NAK knew he had to battle for a spot on the major league roster. With teammates getting hurt, the 23-year-old was given an early Christmas gift and was called up on December 15th.
“The transition from Juniors to AHL was the toughest, but different in perspective. Like I mentioned earlier, point production is easier in Juniors, but the AHL was hard to adjust because of my size. Because of this, I needed to detail my game. The AHL helped become ready for being called up. The team was doing well when I got called up, which made it easier to play with confidence. Last year my call up was before Christmas too and and the team wasn’t doing well at all. Philly was losing, the coach (Hakstol) got fired, and there was no confidence from the coaching staff in my game. But this year, I had great timing. AV and Mike (Yeo) show the utmost confidence in my game and helped me find my role.”
That new role…
Being that he was never asked to be a physical player, he found that new persona in the Phantoms. Coach Alain Vigneault bases his team’s style of play on guys who play exactly like NAK, which opened the door of opportunity for his call up.
The hard-hitting, yet swift puck-moving playing style has kept NAK at the highest professional level on a team with plenty of depth. After about a week of his high pace play impressing his coaches and fans, he was finally rewarded in the best way possible:
Following the goal, he told Crossing Broad:
“I can’t thank AV enough for giving me the chance to go out there in that situation,” Aube-Kubel said. “He didn’t have to do that, so I appreciate that and I appreciate that he trusted me in that situation. “The guys were teasing me saying, ‘who was that goalie? Never heard of him,”
A first NHL goal against the goalie who was his favorite growing up. It doesn’t get much more storybook than that.
NAK has contributed tremendously for the Flyers. His 15 points (7g, 8a) in 36 games (.41 points per game) are solid numbers for a fourth-liner. For him, these numbers can be largely credited to AV, and a couple of teammates:
“AV expects each and every one of us to play a 200 foot game. His style really complimented how I started playing in my later Phantoms’ years, and he truly cares about my development. Nate Thompson and Michael Raffl are leaders and the ultimate teammates too. Thompson is a great leader in the entire locker room. I’m a little closer with Raff because I’ve played with him longer. Some of my production I can thank those guys for. We all just trust our coaches. I’m ready to go through a playoff push with those guys.”
When/ if the NHL resumes playing, NAK knows that the guys will be ready to go.
When in Quarantine…
The status of the NHL season is still up in the air. The NHL directed that players must self-quarantine at home until at least March 27th. More direction will be given about the possible reopening of facilities, but at this point, there is much doubt surrounding the season even finishing.
However, NAK leaves that negativity to the media.
“It’s funny you ask, I was actually quarantining for eight days before that was officially announced. I was already staying with my girlfriend for about eight days. I have a good feeling that we’ll play in some capacity again, whether it’s straight to the playoffs or not.”
He mentioned that he was still training, but giving his body rest as well. Before going on complete lockdown, he saw his good buddies Phil Myers and Sam Morin. He doesn’t have an at-home gym like some players, but continues to work on his craft.
For now, Aube-Kubel will be spending time with his family back in Canada before the borders close. In the meantime, however, NAK wants to send all of those affected by the pandemic his best wishes.
Mandatory Credit – © Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports