Every once in a while, a player comes along who has been overlooked time and time again. When that player is called upon to fill a hole in the lineup, it’s treated as an audition. For Philadelphia Flyers right winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel, that audition has translated into a legitimate roster spot for the team’s stretch run to the playoffs.
The hype around Aube-Kubel has been building as the city has embraced his tenacious and hard-nosed style of play, which has become the overall identity of the Flyers. The 23-year-old has notched six goals and six assists through 31 games this season, the most playing time he’s had with the Flyers in his young and promising career. He has become everything and more for head coach Alain Vigneault, adding snarl and depth to the team’s aggressively fast-paced game. Since January, Aube-Kubel has been logging 11 minutes per game as a bottom-six forward and has continued to make the most out of his opportunity.
On the Brink
For the Flyers, Aube-Kubel wasn’t just another call-up, as the team made the tough decision to send him down to their AHL affiliate Leigh Valley Phantoms at the end of training camp before the season. The 5-foot-11, right-shot raised eyebrows during camp, making a solid case to crack the lineup.
He was a pleasant surprise to most coaches and fans, considering all eyes were on the two most talked about prospects in the Flyers’ system. Nineteen-year-old left winger Joel Farabee and 20-year-old center Morgan Frost attracted quite the buzz, slightly overshadowing Aube-Kubel’s camp. Evidently, the youth movement in Philly is in full effect and Aube-Kubel’s game has not gone unnoticed.
The Slave Lake, Alberta native has spent most of his professional career in the minors, all with the Phantoms. He was drafted 48th overall in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Flyers and his trajectory has soared since his rookie year in AHL.
His game catapulted in 2017-18 when he finished 3rd on the Phantoms in points, netting a career-high in both goals (18) and assists (28) playing the entire season. If the numbers aren’t enough, he’s never been afraid to throw his 187-pound body around and get in his opponent’s face. In the 2018-19 campaign, he racked up 69 penalty minutes, letting his presence be known in the corners or anywhere on the ice to those who come his way.
Welcome to the League, Kid
After displaying solid production in the minors, Aube-Kubel was finally called up to the Flyers earlier this season due to mounting injuries coupled with a much-needed spark to the lineup. At first, playing time didn’t come easy for him. He spent every other game as a healthy scratch as general manager Chuck Fletcher jockeyed players on a matchup basis.
Journeyman winger Chris Stewart and center Mikhail Vorobyev were two common insertions due to their size, but productivity wasn’t nearly up to Flyers’ standards. The club was missing that one player to round out their roster who could bring a two-way game and a level physicality, which is hard to come by. That’s when Aube-Kubel’s number was called.
It’s always easier when a team has both a general manager and head coach with a keen eye for talent who aren’t afraid of taking a risk on a player as the Flyers do. Instead of being predictable and promoting their decorated prospects, Fletcher and Vigneault discuss the betterment of the team as a whole. No, Aube-Kubel is not a flashy player by any means, but that is exactly what works in Vigneault’s system. His repertoire includes playing a fast, assertive offense, with emphasis on special teams. With Aube-Kubel, he sees potential in all three phases, making him a perfect fit in Philly.
A NAK for Production
Since joining the team, Aube-Kubel, nicknamed “NAK,” has meshed nicely with fellow linemates James van Riemsdyk and new-coming center Derek Grant, one of the Flyers’ trade acquisitions from the Anaheim Ducks at the deadline. He has also rotated time with Scott Laughton, Tyler Pitlick, and Michael Raffl. His versatility to play with different line combinations has developed chemistry within the entire bottom-six, and helped Aube-Kubel’s game.
Most frequently, van Riemsdyk’s subtle ability to create chances through the neutral zone has allowed number 62 to cash in at both even strength and on the second power-play unit. Toughness in the corners with a shoot-first mentality has also contributed to more puck possession in the opponent’s end, which has been the formula to Aube-Kubel’s success with the Flyers.
Here to Stay
There’s been talk about the Flyers bringing in depth veterans like Derek Grant and center Nate Thompson at the trade deadline for their playoff push and what it could mean for young, inexperienced players like Aube-Kubel. Fortunately, Fletcher and Vigneault decided that he is here to stay simply because he has earned every second of playing time up with the big boys.
Although, Fletcher did mention the importance of depth and size if the Flyers want to make a serious run at the Cup this year. Grant, 6-foot-3, 206 pounds, and Thompson, 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, provide just that, with Fletcher sending down rookie center Connor Bunnaman and rookie winger Joel Farabee. Instead of a demotion, Aube-Kubel has been rewarded with the opportunity of a lifetime playing in a market thirsty for its first Cup win in over 40 years. Philly is behind NAK.