As a fourth-line winger, it’s not easy for a rookie to make much of an impression.
Nic Aube-Kubel, however, bucked the odds.
Playing primarily as the Flyers’ No. 4 right winger, Aube-Kubel played a key role in the team’s improved play over the last three months of the season. He played so well that coach Alain Vigneault was not reluctant to use him in key situations, and he gave him a healthy amount of playing time — an average of 11 minutes, 17 seconds per game, which is more than most teams give their fourth-liners.
“I got some good ice time and I think I took advantage,” he said after being on the ice Thursday at the Flyers’ practice facility in Voorhees.
Aube-Kubel finished with 15 points, including seven goals, and a plus-1 rating in 36 games. He was eighth on the team in points per minute (.037), sandwiched between Scott Laughton (.038) and Kevin Hayes (.034).
The Flyers went 24-10-2 after Aube-Kubel was promoted from the Phantoms in mid-December.
This is Aube-Kubel’s first full week of skating with some teammates since returning to Voorhees for small-group workouts. No more than six players are allowed on the ice at one time as they prepare for the opening of training camp July 10.
“It was unreal. I missed the boys,” Aube-Kubel said. “I missed skating with them. It was a good practice, a hard practice [as we] get ready for camp.”
When the season was paused, Aube-Kubel was on the fourth line, alongside center Nate Thompson and left winger Michael Raffl.
Aube-Kubel, 24, a second-round selection in the 2014 draft, was asked if he felt he was here to stay in the NHL.
“It’s hard to say that because I only played half a season,” he said. “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’s physical play and strong defensive work have helped the fourth line’s productivity.
“I feel like in the NHL, it’s easier if I focus on one task and focus on one job and do simple stuff,” he said.
The Flyers were the NHL’s hottest team when the season was stopped March 12 because of the coronavirus. Will it be difficult to continue the momentum when the games return, probably in early August?
“That’s a good question,” Aube-Kubel said. “I think a lot of our players are naturally gifted, and that’s going to be a plus for us through the playoffs. "
The solidly built, 5-foot-11, 187-pounder said he didn’t think it would take the players long to get back in stride.
“I’m counting on that and I know the coaches will be on us … and they’ll be ready and make the team ready.”
Being quarantined at a hotel when the season returns and in a “bubble” with his teammates doesn’t faze him, Aube-Kubel said.
“I’ve always been in a bubble,” he said with a laugh. “I played seven hours from my hometown, in a small town with not much to do” while in juniors. “So for sure I’m going to bring my Xbox and a deck of cards to play with the boys. I mean, I’m kind of excited just to get back in that hockey environment.”
Aube-Kubel said he likes that the Flyers are among Eastern Conference teams playing in a round-robin tournament, along with Boston, Tampa Bay, and Washington. Eight other East teams will compete in play-in games.