ARLINGTON, V.A. — Just hours after touching down in D.C. after an early-morning flight from Toronto, Nicolas Aube-Kubel is on the ice and getting right into the swing of things for the Washington Capitals. And as he skates with his new club — and scores on a nice tip-in during drills — he wears a big smile and appears to easily be making himself at home after his waiver claim less than 24 hours earlier.
This past weekend has been a whirlwind for Aube-Kubel, who saw his short tenure in Toronto come to an end and is now on to his next adventure with the Capitals. He hasn’t had much time to sit back and reflect on everything yet, but as he takes in his new locker room, he’s happy with the way things played out.
“Practice went great. It was an early morning but nice to meet all the guys,” Aube-Kubel told WHN. “A lot of them I played against and know them from having that game against them. I know a few faces from playing with them, too. Overall, good day.”
Aube-Kubel is fresh off one of the best seasons of his career, where he won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche and dished a career-high 23 points in 74 games. After hitting free agency, the forward signed a one-year, $1 million contract to join the Toronto Maple Leafs, but things did not go according to plan.
There wasn’t much of a summer break for Aube-Kubel due to the Avalanche’s Cup run, and though he stayed in game shape, he didn’t get too much of a chance to show what he could do with an already-deep Toronto team. He played in just six games with the Leafs, going scoreless but dishing a whopping 21 hits. Toronto placed him on waivers on Friday.
“For sure it was a shorter offseason. I did a good job to stay in shape and stay game ready. I feel it’s more like I didn’t get much opportunity there,” Aube-Kubel said. “Right away, after a few preseason games and a few season games, I was already put on the fourth line and not playing much and then healthy scratched. They have a really competitive team there and they brought new guys there that probably did well. I don’t know, it’s hard to judge and hard to say I didn’t do well because I didn’t have much ice time.”
As he waited for word on his future with the Leafs, there was a strong feeling that No. 96 would be headed to the District with the team missing several key pieces due to injury. And even before the claim, he felt that was the perfect fit.
“Yesterday was a long day. I felt like I was waiting for a 2 p.m. call for a while,” Aube-Kubel said. “I mean, I was hoping someone would get me. My agent was telling me that with all the injuries here, it’d be probable. So when I got the call here, I was really happy to come here and have a team that really competes and even though they have injuries, I could get a spot on a line.”
Not only is Aube-Kubel familiar with several of his new teammates, but he also has past playing experience with some of them as well. Aube-Kubel won the Cup — and famously dropped and dented it — with Darcy Kuemper in Colorado, and he also won the President’s Trophy and QMJHL title with Anthony Mantha back in 2014 when both played for the Val-d’Or Foreurs.
“It’s good memories with them, really good memories. And they’ve been teammates I’ve cherished.”
Looking at Washington, Aube-Kubel sees himself fitting in as a role player, and that’s where he started, as he skated with Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway on Sunday. The Canadian is no stranger to the team’s systems, having played against Washington in several Metro Division meetings while he was still with the Philadelphia Flyers.
“Playing against the fourth line here, I always thought it was one of the best in the league how they’re hard to play against, physical and in the opponent’s face, so I think I can fit well there,” Aube-Kubel said. “Hopefully, I can show some skills up and down the lineup… I’ll see how I can help the team as much as possible.”
“He’s a role player. He’s fast, he’s gritty, he’s physical — I think he’s top-10 in hits per game in the league,” head coach Peter Laviolette said of Aube-Kubel. “He brings an element of physicality, he can pop in some points, too.”
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Most importantly, though, Aube-Kubel sees Washington as a big opportunity, a chance to redeem himself after things went south with the Maple Leafs. He believes he still has a lot to offer the league. And ultimately, he hopes that he will benefit from the change of scenery the same way he did when he was dealt to Colorado after just seven games in Philly last season.
“I get a second chance, and I’m all out for it. I did that last year, and I had the best year of my career in Colorado. I’m just hoping to do the same thing here this year,” Aube-Kubel said, adding, “For me, I’m ready to fit in early and have an impact and play well. I haven’t played much in my time in Toronto, so just to have ice time and play well is my priority here.”