Nic Aube-Kubel hadn’t been on the power play in a while. Tuesday night, he wanted to make the most of the opportunity. His hunger paid off — and fast.
With the Flyers having a man advantage less than two minutes into the game, James van Riemsdyk got a rebound and passed to Aube-Kubel, and the rookie sent the puck flying past San Jose goalie Aaron Dell.
What did Aube-Kubel see in that moment?
“I didn’t see much," he said. “JVR just set me up."
The goal, Aube-Kubel’s sixth of the season, punctuated a particularly strong recent stretch for the fourth-liner, who has outlasted fellow rookies Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost. Those two have been demoted to the Phantoms despite making solid impressions in the big leagues earlier this season.
In fact, when Aube-Kubel found the back of the net in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the foundering Sharks, he was taking Farabee’s spot on the second power-play unit. The 20-year-old Farabee was sent down to the AHL on Monday to make room for the Flyers’ two trade-deadline acquisitions: Derek Grant and Nate Thompson, who centered Aube-Kubel’s line on Tuesday.
“I really like playing with him," Aube-Kubel said of Thompson. "He’s really good defensively in the faceoff circle. He’s going to help our team.”
Aube-Kubel certainly knows how to contribute as a newcomer.
A second-round pick in 2014, he was recalled from the Phantoms in December. A week later, he headed into the league’s Christmas break with his first NHL goal, which came on a power play in the final minutes of a game against the Rangers and was met by the cheers of a home crowd.
In recent weeks, as the playoff hunt intensified, the 23-year-old winger has shown why he deserves to be here. He accomplished a “Gordie Howe hat trick” — a goal, an assist, and a fight — on the road against Washington earlier this month. Last week in Columbus, he logged another critical score, which propelled a Flyers comeback and set the tone for the visiting team’s 4-3 overtime win.
In the locker room Tuesday, Aube-Kubel spoke of patience, of waiting for his NHL shot and the opportunities that came after that. Opportunities to make an impact on power plays and in other key moments, to celebrate goals, and also to make less glamorous plays. He wore an ice pack on his ankle from a blocked shot.
Through his NHL journey so far, he said, he’s been encouraged by his teammates. He’s confident they’ll bring Grant and Thompson into the fold in the same way.
“It’s easy to come in this team and have a lot of friends," he said. “The guys are nice. They were nice to me when I got called up, and for sure they’re going to be nice to them. They fit well on the team so far.”
Others have noticed the team’s cohesiveness, too, and how that’s translated to on-ice success.
“It’s good that we have depth in all four lines,” goalie Carter Hart said. “We’re going to need everybody down the stretch.”