Wed May 21 03:56pm EDT
LONDON, Ont. — Two seasons ago, Nicolas Aubé-Kubel watched a Memorial Cup in his home province of Quebec and rooted for a team from the rest of Canada.
It turns out that for all the hockey bloodlines in this tournament, with all of its Reinharts and Rychels, one family tie went under the radar. Aubé-Kubel, a potential NHL second-round pick, is a first cousin of former Oil Kings forward T.J. Foster, who played several of the present-day Edmontons on a 2012 WHL title-winning team. That meant the 18-year-old, who was born in Slake Lake, Alta., but moved to Sorel, Que., at age two with his mother Annie, a school teacher. So he cheered for Edmonton in '12 instead of Shawinigan.
"All my family from Quebec was there and they were cheering for the Oil Kings," the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Aubé-Kubel says. "I was cheering for the Oil Kings and now I’m here against them.
"It was special seeing my parents cheer for me [Tuesday]," the right wing added. "My dad, Douglas, he was Oil King proud, now he's a Foreur proud."
Aubé-Kubel has been indispensable for the Foreurs as their second-line right wing, one rung below superstar Anthony Mantha on the depth chart. Blessed with speed and offensive savvy, he tallied 22 goals and 53 points across 65 regular-season games. In the playoffs, he put up four and 13 over 21 as Val-d'Or focus shifted to tightening up its game.
"Nicolas has just been a great part of our team — he's got a lot of offensive skills," says Mantha, the Detroit Red Wings first-rounder. "He’s going to learn a little more yet. He's a young guy, just a great skater. His 1-on-1 battles are incredible right now. He just needs to keep building confidence."
Aubé-Kubel's two-way game was apparent on Tuesday. Playing back-to-back while No. 1 defenceman Guillaume Gélinas was out with a contusion above his left knee forced the Foreurs to try to deny and defend Edmonton rather than attack. Aubé-Kubel, who was at Canada's summer under-18 team selection camp last July, made several great reads to help contain Edmonton's movement through the neutral zone.
It's not bad for a NHL draft prospect to show some ease with the nuances of defence.
"It was a fun because the play here was so fast," says Aubé-Kubel, who has another cousin, Thomas Foster, playing in the WHL with the Vancouver Giants. "I had to help chip in offensively but be good defensively too. We know if we have to be sharp defensively to win."
T.J. Foster won a national championship in March by helping the Alberta Golden Bears win the University Cup. Aubé-Kubel is hoping to do the same.
"I do my best to play at a high level in the big games," he says.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.