A Nicolas Aube-Kubel appreciation post

This article is written by RMNB Crasher Peter Friedrich.

The Washington Capitals have had a wild season, to place it mildly. With near $30 million in wage cap tied up on some type of injured reserve at some levels, it has been as much as the “common guys” to step up and tackle bigger roles this season.

New additions to the crew like Dylan Strome, Erik Gustafsson, and Sonny Milano have proven their expertise together with younger pups like Aliaksei Protas and Alex Alexeyev. But, the one participant that I feel has had a fantastic affect on the Caps, however has flown beneath the radar is Nicolas Aube-Kubel.

The Capitals acquired NAK off waivers from Toronto on November 5 after the ahead did not register a single level for the Leafs in six video games. After a tough begin to his Washington tenure, which included a three-game suspension for a excessive hit on the Lightning’s Cal Foote, NAK cemented himself, for a time, within the lineup as a high-energy puck hound who is not afraid to take some photographs – each at opposing gamers and on the web.

While his contributions do not essentially present up on a standard stat sheet — NAK has six factors (2g, 4a) in 22 video games performed with a plus-minus of plus six and 29 penalty minutes — he is the type of participant that makes his teammates higher. The Capitals as a complete play higher when he is on the ice. And it goes past simply the attention take a look at; the stats from “deeper” analytics like those at HockeyViz again up his sport.

This might be greatest exemplified by his affect on Lars Eller:

Via Hockey Viz

When NAK and Eller are paired on a line collectively, they play extra accountable protection and the crew sees a marked lower in an opponent’s anticipated targets. With the 2 on the ice at five-on-five, the Caps additionally see 60.1 p.c of the shot makes an attempt in comparison with simply 51 p.c when Eller is away from NAK. This is precisely what you wish to see from a Caps third line and precisely what you get if you put NAK on the market: quick, opportunistic hockey with a robust forechecking presence. The different crew merely doesn’t have the puck so much when NAK is on the ice.

When Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson got here again on January 8, NAK was one of many first guys out of the lineup. But after a couple of video games sidelined, he is again. Now, Aube-Kubel has been lining up beside Dylan Strome and Alex Ovechkin on the highest line. It appeared absurd at first, however he would not look all that misplaced.

NAK’s type of hard-nosed hockey pairs effectively with Strome’s extra fluid type of play. His physicality and velocity open the ice for Ovi. He helps generate extra scoring probabilities for each Ovi and Strome. It’s been two video games, however the line has seen constructive differentials at five-on-five in each scoring probabilities (+7) and high-danger probabilities (+4).

When placing NAK’s contributions within the context of the remainder of the crew, an image begins to emerge of a hard-skating puck hound that can do the soiled work on the forecheck. It’s necessary to the success of the crew to have guys who can fill that function when different gamers, particularly board battlers like TJ Oshie or Nic Dowd, go down with an harm.

As the season progresses and Aube-Kubel will get extra snug in Peter Laviolette’s system (remember he was picked up off waivers from Toronto and he is studying the system as he goes), I anticipate we’ll begin to see extra scoring manufacturing from NAK as effectively. He has two targets in his final 4 video games, which is perhaps an indicator that his consolation degree with the crew’s scheme is rising and he is beginning to construct tangible chemistry all through the Caps’ lineup.

Should Aube-Kubel proceed to impress together with his play (and placing up some extra factors undoubtedly will not harm his trigger), the Capitals are going to seek out themselves needing to make one other massive choice this offseason along with the 15 different free agent choices they have already got.

At age 26, NAK is likely one of the youthful gamers within the beginning lineup and will have extra years of fine hockey forward of him. And, at solely $1M in opposition to the wage cap, he is a discount for what he brings to the ice and will simply be stashed within the minors if his talent erodes.

You might make an argument that in comparison with a number of the Hershey guys ready within the wings to get referred to as up full-time, gamers like Beck Malenstyn or Garrett Pilon, Aube-Kubel is overpriced. Malenstyn and Pilon every make round $750k – however it’s important to needless to say Aube-Kubel not solely has extra regular-season NHL expertise beneath his belt but additionally received a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche final yr. (He additionally practically broke the trophy too.)

If the Caps wish to proceed to make the playoffs by way of the twilight of Ovi’s profession, they’ll want depth guys like NAK who’ve been there, completed that, and know what it takes to win within the postseason on the highest degree.

And at sub-$2M AAV Aube-Kubel might be a kind of guys.

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