Everyone saw how important a fourth line can be when the St. Louis Blues made their march to a first Stanley Cup championship last year.
The unit of Oskar Sundqvist, Alexander Steen and Ivan Barbashev provided significant contributions at both ends of the ice, especially in the seven-game final series win over Boston.
With the Flyers gearing up for what the NHL hopes will be the start of this season’s playoffs sometime later in the summer, Philadelphia’s fourth unit should figure strongly in any title aspirations.
That trio consisting of rookie Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Nate Thompson and Michael Raffl was competing at a high level when the pandemic shut things down on March 11-12.
Aube-Kubel in particular surprised some people with his strong play after getting called up from the Phantoms back on Dec. 15.
Throughout the fall/winter portion of the season, rookies such as Morgan Frost, Mikhail Vorobyev, German Rubtsov, David Kase, Connor Bunnaman and Carsen Twarynski had all auditioned for a spot on the roster.
But when the dust settled, Aube-Kubel was the only freshman who managed to stick, playing in 36 games, second among Flyers’ first-year players only to former first-round draft pick Joel Farabee’s 49.
If the season does resume again, it’s a pretty sure wager Aube-Kubel will be playing an active role. His seven goals and 15 points with a plus-1 in less than half a season make it evident he belongs in the NHL.
It hasn’t been an easy road to the top for the former second-round pick (48th overall) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Aube-Kubel had to ply his craft for the better part of four years with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms before the Flyers changed general managers and coaches, basically giving all prospects a clean slate on which to start over.
At 24, the Slave Lake, Alberta native appreciates what it’s taken to get here and possibly stay for good.
He discussed that after Thursday’s informal practice session at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J.
“I spent almost four years in the AHL perfecting my game,’’ Aube-Kubel said during an interview with the Flyers’ public relations department. “I think I was ready since the last two years. I didn’t get my chance. This year I’m really glad I got a chance to play with the team. I think I got some good ice time and made the best of it.’’
The right wing was asked if he believes he’s done enough to be considered an NHL regular now.
“It’s tough to say that because I only have played half a season,’’ he said. “But for sure I’ll see after the playoffs. . .get my thoughts for next year.
“Physically, I think I’ve been there for a while. Having the offense and the defense that I used to have was more like junior. It was harder for me in the AHL to stand out. I feel like in the NHL it’s easier to focus on one task, one job and just do simple stuff and look good on the ice for that.’’
Another thing the Flyers like about Aube-Kubel’s game is his toughness. He demonstrated a willingness to mix it up with guys bigger than him (he’s listed at 5-foot-11, 187 pounds according to the Flyers’ roster sheet) and as we all know by now, contact runs in the Flyers’ blood dating back to the ‘70s.
Aube-Kubel arrived in New Jersey on June 9, started skating on June 12 (after getting tested for COVID-19). He’s been skating each day this past week.
“It was unreal,’’ Aube-Kubel said of getting back on the ice. “I missed the boys, I missed skating with them. It was good practicing, hard practicing, getting ready for the camp.’’
Safe to say he’s taking nothing for granted, including living conditions – the so-called “bubble’’ – when play resumes.
“Throughout my career I’ve always been in a bubble,’’ he chuckled. “For sure, I’m going to bring my Xbox and my deck of cards to play with the boys. I’m kind of excited for that, to get back in that hockey environment.’’
Looks like he’s going to be a regular at the Flyers’ poker table. Don’t bet against it.