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2020-21 Player Review: After a promising rookie season, Nicolas Aubé-Kubel derailed in a big way

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NAKGB? More like NAKG-Bad.

Philadelphia Flyers v Washington Capitals Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Flyers entered the 2020-21 season with a lot of their possible success dependent on the growth of young players. Taking a look at the roster heading into the year, it wasn’t hard to pick out Nicolas Aubé-Kubel as an underrated, yet critical bottom six presence who could elevate his fellow forwards via his combination of relentless forechecking, subtle contributions in transition, and above-average scoring touch. Given the unabashed praise NAK earned from all sides following an excellent debut as an NHL regular (yes, I know Dave Hakstol played him for five minutes in a game the year prior), these expectations weren’t exactly lofty; there was a body of work to base them off of. Instead of meeting or even slightly underachieving those predictions, Aubé-Kubel bottomed out. Let’s look at a very basic statistical overview of his season.

Given the unabashed praise NAK earned from all sides following an excellent debut as an NHL regular (yes, I know Dave Hakstol played him for five minutes in a game the year prior), these expectations weren’t exactly lofty; there was a body of work to base them off of. Instead of meeting or even slightly underachieving those predictions, Aubé-Kubel bottomed out. Let’s look at a very basic statistical overview of his season.


By The Numbers

Aubé-Kubel’s 2020-21 player card.
Image via Evolving-Hockey.com

Basic Stats

GP G A P PIM Shots On Goal Shooting Percentage
GP G A P PIM Shots On Goal Shooting Percentage
50 3 9 12 44 53 5.70%
Aubé-Kubel’s basic scoring stats from 2020-21. Data via NHL.com

Instead of keeping pace with his impressive debut, Aubé-Kubel took a steep dive in production. Paired with a significant uptick in his penalty minutes (many of which came off of lazy or ill-timed infractions that would drive any coach insane), it was a disappointing year by the counting stats for the still-young winger. While there was once little reason for concern about his long-term NHL viability, 2020-21 provided tangible foundation for doubts.

5v5 SVA On-Ice Stats

Corsi For Percentage SVA Corsi For Percentage Relative SVA xGF Percentage SVA xGF Percentage Relative SVA
Corsi For Percentage SVA Corsi For Percentage Relative SVA xGF Percentage SVA xGF Percentage Relative SVA
50.26% -0.19% 46.79% -3.12%
Data via NaturalStatTrick.com

When looking at micro stats (which we’re not going to include a deep dive on here, for the sake of brevity), the reason for Aubé-Kubel’s decline in play driving statistics like xG and CF becomes pretty clear: his forechecking went from elite to mediocre. Much of NAK’s success in 2019-20 was based upon his tenacity in puck retrieval, and without an exceptional performance in this regard he struggled to manufacture offense in a more rush-driven environment created by a lack of sustained offensive zone time. When Aubé-Kubel forechecked well, the rest of his game improved; when things weren’t so sunny, he profiled as a fungible 13th forward.

5v5 SVA Individual Stats

Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 xGF/60 xGA/60
Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 xGF/60 xGA/60
1.33 0.77 10.32 1.82 2.07
Stats via NaturalStatTrick.com

NAK had a similar year to fellow bottom six winger Michael Raffl, but produced primary points at a significantly worse clip. His xGA/60 was slightly better than his Austrian compadre, but other than that the only standout here is that Aubé-Kubel was a decent enough individual producer of Corsi, indicating that he’s still capable of being a guy who can drive shot totals on a line. Optimism might say that he’ll be able to convert that into a better 2021-22.


Three Questions

Did they live up to our expectations?

No. Nicolas Aubé-Kubel was one of the more enjoyable surprises in a 2019-20 full of them, and most here at BSH expected him to play high-caliber hockey in a limited role. Instead, he had long stretches where his most notable plays were boneheaded penalties that rolled out the team’s awful penalty kill for opponents to feast upon.

What do we/can we expect next season?

Aubé-Kubel’s underlying results indicate that the player we all know and love is still in there somewhere, but it’s difficult to assert that he’ll suddenly find consistency and regain peak form when he’s had trouble putting it all together for sustained periods at every level of his career. If NAK manages to put together 82 games where he’s playing at 90%, rather than 25 games of 150% and 40ish games of 40%, he’ll be exactly what people want in a fourth line forward: gritty, offensively capable, and instrumental in shifting momentum via breakouts and entries. The question is if that will be what we get from him, or if he’ll produce another uneven year in what has been an up and down career.

How would you grade their 2020-21 season?

NAK actively hurt the team with costly penalties and poor play, so he gets a solid F here, although that’s admittedly partly due to the expectations held for him coming into 2020-21. Still, he was a massive letdown and one of the main reasons that the Flyers got so badly shelled in bottom six matchups where they ostensibly had a talent advantage.