ALLENTOWN — Right winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel, an explosive scorer in juniors and a second-round Flyers selection in the 2014 draft, struggled through a disappointing rookie season with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms last year.
Ron Hextall wasn’t alarmed. Typical growing pains, the Flyers general manager said.
“Nic didn’t understand the American League,” Hextall said recently. “It’s a much higher level than junior hockey. I would expect Nic this year to take off. I really do. Nic’s a good prospect. Nic’s got good speed. He’s got hockey sense, he’s got size. He’s thick, strong on the puck. He’s got scoring touch. This kid’s got lots of ability. No one talks about him.”
On Wednesday, Aube-Kubel, 21, was on a line with hotshot rookies Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom in a split-squad game against the New York Islanders at the PPL Center, the Phantoms’ home rink. He finished last season with just nine goals and nine assists in 71 games with Lehigh Valley.
Patrick set up Shayne Gostisbehere for the overtime winner, as the Flyers defeated the Islanders, 3-2.
Speedy left winger Taylor Leier scored a pair of power-play goals, to spark the Flyers. Leier, 23, is a long shot to make the Flyers, but he made a statement Wednesday and should survive Thursday’s roster cuts.
“He’s such a determined kid,” veteran winger Colin McDonald said. “He’s going to be in the NHL [some day]. There’s no doubt. Whether it’s with this team or another team. If he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s going to get an opportunity somewhere.”
As for Aube-Kubel, he “probably didn’t do what a lot of people projected him to do last year,” Hextall said. “I know he can play better than he did last year, and I expect him to play better. … three months from now, Nic could be knocking on the door for a call-up. Who knows? I don’t know that. Assuming he doesn’t make our team here, he’s got to go down there and get better every day, but he’s a good prospect.”
Before joining the Phantoms, Aube-Kubel had consecutive 38-goals seasons and 80-plus points in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“My whole career, I’ve been an offensive player,” Aube-Kubel (known as “Cube” to his teammates) said before Wednesday’s game. “My junior years were a lot of points, a lot of goals. Last year didn’t translate that well, and I had to learn a lot about the pro hockey game. Guys are bigger, guys are faster. I learned a lot last year, and I hope it will translate into a good year this year.”
The 5-foot-11, 204-pound Aube-Kubel, who missed two days of camp last week because of illness, said AHL players “have better instincts” than he was used to seeing in the QMJHL. “Guys aren’t turning it over that much. In junior, you could just have a normal night and pick up on three or four turnovers and score.”
Hextall will make several roster cuts Thursday, before the team heads to Boston for an exhibition game against the Bruins (NHL Network). He said he still had many difficult decisions to make.
Aube-Kubel, undoubtedly, will start the season in Lehigh Valley.
“I had to adjust last year and learn from it,” he said. “Now, it’s time to perform.”
Michal Neuvirth played two periods and looked sharp, stopping 16 of 17 shots. The only goal the Isles scored on him was on a five-on-three power play. … In a split-squad game in Brooklyn, Travis Konecny and T.J. Brennan scored, but the Flyers lost to the Islanders, 3-2. … Hextall said he was undecided whether center German Rubtsov will go back to his junior team or play with the Phantoms this season. … The Flyers played a sloppy first period in Allentown, committing four penalties (three slashes) and getting outshot, 13-5, as they fell into a 1-0 hole. … The over/under for Flyers points this season is 90½, according to the oddsmaker Bovada. They had 88 points last season.