Philadelphia Flyers: Nicolas Aube-Kubel can protect his spot in 2021

Jakub Voracek, Shayne Gostisbehere, Nicolas Aube-Kubel; one of these players is not like the other.

First, what they have in common. Well, all three play hockey professionally, were members of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2020-21, and each played at least 40 games for the team during the COVID-abbreviated season.

The differences? Well, besides Gostisbehere playing defense and Voracek and Aube-Kubel playing on the wings, the former two both recorded at least 15 minutes of ATOI and 20 plus points as consistent performers for the Flyers both at full strength and on special teams, whereas NAK was largely used as a bottom-sixer with less roughly 11 seconds of special teams action per game versus 10:58 at even strength.

So naturally, with an expansion draft on the horizon, the Flyers would surely protect either  Gostisbehere or Voracek over a relatively interchangeable player like Aube-Kubel, right?

You think so, but that, my friends, wasn’t the case. With Nolan Patrick already off to Vegas and a desperate need to shed salary heading into free agency, the Flyers allowed both Gostisbehere and Voracek to be exposed to Seattle and ultimately traded the duo when they went unclaimed.

And as for Aube-Kubel? Well, he’s still a member of the Philadelphia Flyers and is about to enter a pivotal season that could make or break his NHL career. No pressure, right?

The pressure is on for Nicolas Aube-Kubel to make the Philadelphia Flyers.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel is a 25-year-old native of Slave Lake, Alberta, Canada. He played his amateur hockey for Val-d’Or Foreurs, was drafted midway through the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, and has since appeared in 95 games for the club since making his debut on October 30th, 2018.

Since becoming a fixture of the Flyers’ bottom-six in 2019-20, Aube-Kubel has racked up 10 goals and 17 assists, averaged a little over 11 minutes of ATOI, and, most importantly of all, developed a bit of a reputation as a checker with 202 hits versus 95 games.

For a bottom-of-the-lineup bruiser, there’s a lot to like about Aube-Kubel. He has good size for a right-winger at 5-foot-11, 214 pounds, is a decent enough skater, and has an active enough shot for a developmental young player.

Will NAK ever become a top-liner or the second coming of Wayne Simmonds? Probably not, but in the modern-day NHL, having quality role players are important too, especially on a team like the Flyers who have lacked toughness sans Sam Morin over the past few seasons.

With Morin expected to miss an unknown amount of time moving forward after right knee surgery, Aube-Kubel has a chance to showcase his abilities heading into this, a contract year.

Joining a right-wing group now headlined by ex-Columbus Blue Jackets sharpshooter Cam Atkinson, Travis Konecny, and Wade Allison, who is currently on the mend with a high ankle sprain, Aube-Kubel received second-line minutes in Group B alongside Scott Laughton and Nate Thompson, with his teammates rotating between center and left-wing. While it’s doubtful he’ll be playing many minutes on the second line come Opening Night, as even The Athletics’ Charlie O’Conner pointed out Group B second line is more like regular season fourth line, it is encouraging to see NAK playing over prospects like Tyson Foerster and Linus Sandin, who are question marks to make the 23-man regular season roster.

If there was ever an opportunity for Aube-Kubel to protect his spot in the rotation, this would be it.

Will Nicolas Aube-Kubel ever live up to being one of the Philadelphia Flyers’ protected players? Probably not. There are easily 15 players on the roster who are more valuable/crucial to Alain Vigneault’s game plan than NAK, and he may not even be on the team next year, depending on how things shake out over the next 12 months. With that being said, just because you aren’t a star doesn’t mean you can’t be a valuable contributor for a team looking to make a deep playoff run. With only so many hit-happy right shots on the roster, don’t be surprised if Aube-Kubel parlays a breakout fourth season into a longer stay in the City of Brotherly Love.