The New Jersey Devils will not need to wait long between their first and second picks at this year's draft; after selecting 30th in round one, only ten teams will pick before they take the stage again, barring any unforeseen trading. The second round has been kind to our team (defensively) in recent drafts, specifically 2009, 2010, 2012, and this past year, so who's to say they won't find a gem again? This time though, New Jersey should be looking for a prospect to deepen their pool of developing forwards. Nicolas Aube-Kubel jumped five spots from his midterm ranking to finish 40th in Central Scouting's final rankings, and as a projected second round pick, would be a good addition to the Devils' roster.
Who is Nicolas Aube-Kubel?
Born in Slave Lake, Alberta, Canada on May 10th, 1996, Nicolas Aube-Kubel is a 5'11" 179 pound, right-handed center. He started out playing in the Quebec Midget AAA Hockey League, a league offering the highest level of play for the 15-17 year old age group. He would play one season in QMAAA before being taken 7th overall in the 2012 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft, as one of Val-d'Or's first round draftees. In his first season with the Foreurs, he would go on to post 27 points and also tallied 4 goals and 4 assists in 6 games representing Canada during the WHC-17. As he has only played in stat recording leagues for three seasons, here's Elite Prospect's (tiny) stat chart for Aube-Kubel:
While his first season wasn't spectacular, stat-wise, however I was not able to see how much time on ice he averaged, so his low totals could be due to his rookie status on the team and a lack of playing time. This past season was much better, as he averaged 0.82 points per game. His 53 total points for Val-d'Or in 2013-2014 was good enough to finish 6th on the team overall; of note is that the 5 players who finished above him were all already draft eligible for at least one year, with their leading scorer Anthony Mantha being the Detroit Red Wings first round choice last year. The Foreurs would claim the President's Cup in the postseason, and Aube-Kubel's 13 points would see him finish 8th on the team in playoff scoring. Again, without ice time averages, it's very hard to put scoring into perspective, but it's still encouraging to see a player scoring, and not vanishing after the regular season concludes.
What Others Have Said About Aube-Kubel
Over at McKeen's Hockey, their QMJHL scout Rick Springhetti had this thorough synopsis about Aube-Kubel's game:
Hard working forward with excellent energy level .. keeps his feet moving in all three zones .. skates fairly quickly after his first few strides but improved strength would help him as his mechanics are solid .. gives a strong effort in the defensive zone, always looking to put pressure on the puck-carrier .. turns are precise and tight, enabling him to further pressure the puck-carrier .. has to learn to play the angles better to make himself bigger and cut down on passing lanes .. not overly creative but understands the importance of making quick decisions with the puck .. gutsy forward who goes in the dirty areas to score goals .. will have to gain a good deal of strength .. tries to do too much when the games are important and will have to show some patience.
The beginning of this scouting report just screams "New Jersey Devils forward" to me. Cited as a good player in all three zones of the ice, Aube-Kubel is complemented for being strong in the defensive zone; his ability to pressure the puck carrier with his speed and turning would make him a great asset for both 5 on 5 play and penalty killing. He also seems as though he could bring some speed, energy and good decision making to our lineup; combine those assets with his nearly point per game pace, and ability to get to dirty spots to score and you have all the ingredients for an excellent prospect.
Shawn Reznik over at The Hockey Writers had many complements about Aube-Kubel's speed, defense, offense and intangibles:
Nicolas Aube-Kubel's game is built for speedy. He's only 5'11″ but motors around the rink and plays the game fast. It's difficult for defenseman to contain him because after a few explosive strides he's already past them. He had an average rookie season with the Foreurs last year, but was able to play a more offensive role and lead the team to the Memorial Cup playoffs.
He has a pronounced defensive game in which he's positionally sound and is relentless of the forecheck and backcheck - being fast makes it easy for him to get back into the play. For his skill, his stickhandling, and his trigger happy release, I'd like to see Aube-Kubel be more consistent offensively. He certainly has the tools to make it in the NHL as a scorer, checking line center, or two-way forward.
The concluding statement here is key for me; Aube-Kubel could wind up being one of three forward types depending on the team that drafts him and how they develop him. The fact that he is so multifaceted should raise his stock quite a bit, and if he turned out to be a good two-way forward with a scoring touch, he would be a great fit for this team.
His shortcomings seem to mostly be ones that could be corrected with a few years of development. The report from McKeen's cites his lack of strength twice, which leads me to believe that it is the major missing component of his game. It's not outside the realm of possibility that he could bulk up between the draft and the start of the season, but it's also not likely that he would be on the opening night roster. Going back to his junior team (as well as to the AHL when he is eligible) could help him to work on his angles and his patience. Offensive consistency, which was a concern of Reznik's, is the only item I have seen on a scouting report about Aube-Kubel that can not be taught. However, the point total increase between his rookie and sophomore season is encouraging to me; his nearly point per game pace suggests to me that he's finding ways to be more consistent, while at the same time still being somewhat of a work in progress.
A Little Video
Here's a good video of Aube-Kubel from Val-d'Or's playoff series against Halifax. I really like this video because not only do we get to see some highlights of his play, but we get to hear from Nicolas himself about not only his strengths, but also about the areas of his game that he knows he can (and is trying to) improve upon. I like when a player realizes his own shortcomings; I like it even more when he is actively trying to improve those areas of his game.
And for the fight enthusiasts among us, I present to you Nicolas Aube-Kubel versus Simon Tremblay of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens:
Ok, so it's not that great of a fight, but it showed Aube-Kubel has got some good balance, and that he's not afraid to go if need be.
An Opinion of Sorts
As he is ranked 40th overall out of just North American skaters, I feel like Aube-Kubel will still be on the board when the Devils make their second round selection. He seems like he would be a natural fit on our team just based on the fact that he plays strong in all three zones of the ice. I also like the fact that he plays a speedy game; the Devils were the oldest team in the league in terms of average age last season, and we need some younger legs that can provide some speed. In terms of his scoring ability he seems like he has yet to hit his ceiling from the limited amount of data and footage I have to work with; I can't see him making the opening night roster, but with some more time in juniors and the AHL, he could become a solid contributor for our team.
I also like that while he has a bit of a scoring touch, he is also known to make good decisions with the puck. Those can go hand in hand, as there were enough times last season where the team just would not take a shot even when they were wide open. Nicolas seems to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em (into the net), and playing smart with the puck will never be frowned upon.
His lack of strength doesn't really concern me as much as it may some; as we've gone on reviewing more and more prospects, undersized players seem to be the norm rather than an anomaly. Again, if we take the time to develop him for a few more seasons, there's no reason Aube-Kubel couldn't add some more muscle to his frame; he's also one of the larger guys we have profiled so far in terms of weight, and he wouldn't need to bulk up all that much to fill out his 5'11" frame. He has a few other mechanics that need work, but they can be fixed with time and proper coaching, the latter of which I feel we have down in Albany.
There's a chance due to his ranking that he might even fall to the third round of this draft. If there doesn't seem to be too much interest in him due to his ranking and/or perceived shortcomings, then it might be better to try and pick him up at #71 rather than #41. However, his skill set intrigues me enough that if I were the Devils I would just use my second round pick on him rather than try to wait and hope no one else scoops him up.
What are your thoughts about Aube-Kubel as a prospect? Do you feel he would be an asset to our team? Do his strengths appeal to you? Do his areas needing improvement make him too much of a "project" for the state the team is currently in? Please leave your answers and other comments about Nicolas Aube-Kubel in the section below.