Aube-Kubel Adjusting to AHL Hockey

Monday, December 19, 2016
Flyers prospect Nicolas Aube-Kubel is learning the pro game in Lehigh Valley this season. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey
Transition to pro hockey needs to be a patient process 

Written by: Tim Riday - Twitter

At a quick glance, you may feel underwhelmed after you look at Nicolas Aube-Kubel’s production for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms thus far.

“Just four goals and seven points in 27 games?”

That’s a question you’d probably wind up asking yourself.

“I thought Aube-Kubel was a goal scorer” is another.

Don’t let the stats fool you. This season is about much more than point totals for Aube-Kubel, a first-year pro who had a very successful junior career.

Forget his 38-goal, 46 assist 2015-16 campaign for the Val d'Or Foreurs. Put aside the fact that he finished with 108 goals and 136 assists in 251 games over four years in the QMJHL.

This season is all about learning. It’s a pivotal year for his development. Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon knows it. Aube-Kubel knows it. And most importantly, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall knows it.

If Aube-Kubel wants to one day call Philadelphia his home, he’s going to have to absorb as much knowledge as he can while he’s in Allentown.

And for the first time in his hockey career, he’s not being relied on for offense. Gordon wants Aube-Kubel to elevate his game to the next level and the ultimate plan is to groom him into a two-way winger.

We know Aube-Kubel, a second-round pick in 2014, is a hard-working sniper who plays with a high amount of energy. He's a versatile option for any lineup. You won't see him shy away from driving the net or mixing it up along the boards.

But the real question is: Can he serve in other roles and situations against more-skilled athletes?

Aube-Kubel's talents are still very much blossoming. It’s up to Gordon to figure out what exactly the kid can do to help the Phantoms and, hopefully, the Flyers in the future.

That's why Aube-Kubel is being eased in. He has spent much of the first quarter of the season playing in the bottom six with limited usage. The goal is to not overwhelm the young winger. This isn’t a trial by fire. There’s really no need to do that to the kid. Why rush him? 

It’s all about gaining experience and understanding what he needs to improve upon. Right now, it’s the defensive side of the puck. Aube-Kubel is not a player you have to worry about lollygagging on the backcheck but his awareness could stand to be sharper. 

So who better to start him with than Corban Knight and fellow first-year Phantom Radel Fazleev? Both Knight and Fazleev are known to be reliable and efficient defensive-minded forwards. They have also been lauded for their penalty-killing acumen. 

Aube-Kubel saw a ton of minutes with Fazleev and Knight in the early going. It was a new role for him, one that was not easy for a natural playmaker. 

He passed the test.

Next up was a promotion to the second line with noted point producers Jordan Weal and Danick Martel. That’s when Aube-Kubel really started to kick it into high gear.

Just a few games after serving as a healthy scratch in Hershey, he scored 59 seconds into the Phantoms’ win over the Rochester Americans on Dec. 10 in the “Teddy Toss” game. The goal snapped a 13-game drought and he also wound up earning an assist in the tilt.
“It was my first goal at home for me,” he said after the game. “It was a big one. Thanks for the help [from Martel].” 

If you couldn’t tell, Aube-Kubel is a man of few words. That’s because the French-speaking native of Quebec is still perfecting his English. He’s been rooming with fellow countrymen Sam Morin and Martel, who also speak French, as well as rookie Travis Sanheim. 

For now, his answers are short and to the point. He may take a few seconds to think them out but he’s got a good grasp on reality.

Aube-Kubel didn’t let being scratched get to his head. He took a step back, watched attentively and responded positively. That’s not easy for a rookie to do.

“I’ve been playing better lately,” he said. “I couldn’t find the back of the net but it’s a lot of pressure off my shoulders [to get back in the goal column].”

That's something that hasn't been lost on Gordon. The Lehigh Valley bench boss speaks highly of Aube-Kubel and has been impressed with his resilience.

The most crucial thing to have with prospects is patience, after all.
"I think he’s being rewarded for the hard work he’s put in," Gordon said of Aube-Kubel. "He’s not a guy that’s gotten a lot of ice time. He’s had to earn it. It hasn’t been easy for him but we were going over some shifts and how he’s skating now isn’t even close to what he was doing for the first 15 to 20 games of the year."

At 5-11 and 200 pounds, Aube-Kubel has the potential to be a serviceable NHLer. Long-term he projects as a second- or third-line winger with above-average skill but that's still a ways away.

It was helpful that Aube-Kubel got his first taste of the professional ranks last season in a brief six-game stint with the Phantoms after his junior season concluded.

Aube-Kubel made his pro debut on April 8, 2016 and scored his first pro goal just two days later at Bridgeport. He finished with two markers and a helper to go along with a plus-3 ranking.

As expected, there have been some growing pains in his first full AHL season and that's OK.

Aube-Kubel’s journey has just begun. But the mantra remains the same: Absorb, grasp and digest.

"We can now see what he’s capable of," Gordon said. "It’s not from more than just effort, it’s understanding that the players are a little bit better here. You have to manage the puck better and you have to work a little bit harder. He’s been improving."

That last statement is all that really matters anyway.

Edited by Tony Androckitis


PerttuJunnonaho said...

We must try really hard to trade Aube-Kubel and someone else to Minnesota for they"re big and powerful left winger Jordan Greenway! Because we have log jam in our right wing position and more really good right wingers coming in our prospect pool, like Wade Allison and Pascal Leberge, so we need badly more quality left wingers like Greenway! So while Oscar Lindblom is hopefully coming at the start of next season, we still need badly at least one good left winger like Greenway to upgrade our teams thin left wing position! So H exy give it some thought!

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