By Kyle Kujawa -
Detroit Red Wings fans have gotten a long look at several of their top prospects this season, as the likes of Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Brendan Smith, Joakim Andersson, Petr Mrazek and Brian Lashoff have turned heads during NHL call-ups this season, delivering on scouting reports that promised bright futures.
The depth doesn’t just end there, though. Nine of the forwards regularly deployed by the Grand Rapids Griffins this season are first- or second-year pros. Many will graduate to bigger roles on the club as the current crop of stars ascends to full-time NHL positions. Others, like Louis-Marc Aubry, have more defined plans in mind.
“I won’t go in the NHL as a top-six player,” said Aubry. “I will go as a third-line or fourth-line player. I have to be strong defensively and pay attention to the details of the game.”
A third-round pick by Detroit in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Aubry hasn’t seen the fanfare of some of his AHL teammates, but he offers a combination of skills sought out by every NHL team. At 6-foot-4, he’s the tallest forward on the roster, and he provides a combination of speed, defensive awareness and physical play that make up the ideal shut-down, checking line forward at the next level.
“They want me to work a lot on my defensive play,” he said. “I need to get stronger around the ice and defensively and work on my faceoffs.”
Aubry already plays a large role on the team’s penalty killing units, but he knows that a more regular offensive contribution will help him earn more ice time. After enduring a 42-game goalless drought, he hopes that a recent lucky break will open the door for him to chip in goals more frequently.
During a March 9 home game against Lake Erie, Monsters netminder Calvin Pickard came far out of his goal to play a loose puck. With the middle of the ice occupied, he attempted to put the puck off the boards, but found no room around the big body of Aubry and ended up putting the puck right on his tape. Despite having only one goal on the season, Aubry wasted no time confidently getting the puck to the vacated net.
“I feel like I’m back on track,” said Aubry. “I was in a little bit of a slump, I couldn’t score for a while. I needed a bounce like that. I’ve had a lot of chances, so I just needed a break. I’ve never had a slump that long. You try to stay positive, but at the same time you feel a little bit of pressure.”
The slump was just one of a handful of setbacks Aubry has faced in his second professional season. Many hockey fans saw video of the bench-clearing brawl between the Griffins and Rockford IceHogs on Jan. 19. Despite the fact that both benches were empty within the blink of an eye, Aubry was identified as the first Griffin to hit the ice, so he earned the automatic six-game suspension that comes with it.
“When I jumped, I didn’t know it was six games automatically,” he recalled. “But I was going to defend my teammates. It cost me six games and I lost my rhythm, but I don’t regret it.”
The suspension came three weeks after he missed three games with an injury, and was further extended by the AHL All-Star Break. He didn’t play again until Feb. 8, as break in the schedule effectively lengthened his suspension by an additional week.
“It’s not the same at all to practice and play games,” Aubry said. “You lose a little bit of rhythm, even though you try hard in the gym to stay in shape. It took me a couple games to get back.”
It did represent a change in his style, as he works towards his goal of being a third-line forward for the Red Wings down the road. He doesn’t skate around the ice looking for trouble, but he has shown the willingness to drop the gloves to stick up for his teammates.
“Last year, I was just a big tall guy coming [into the league],” said Aubry. “I fought a few tough guys, but I didn’t really know how to. This summer, I took some classes and gained strength, so now I feel more comfortable fighting this year.”
While old school fighters would take boxing or martial arts classes to improve their ability, Aubry benefited from a former professional hockey player who teaches hockey-centric fighting classes in a gym that Aubry trains at during his summers in Quebec.
As a 5-foot-8 player in his mid-teens, Aubry probably never imagined he’d do any fighting at the professional level. After a late growth spurt saw him shoot up eight inches in four years, he spent a long time getting used to the bigger body, including some injuries that came with it.
“I’ve started to get steadier on my feet and more comfortable in my body,” said Aubry. “We have good trainers; [Aaron Downey] was great last year, too. I’ve been the same size for three years now, and I’m working out during the season and the summer.”
Another adjustment for the Arthabaska, Quebec, native has been bonding with his teammates. That’s not to say he was shunned in the locker room by any means, but Aubry learned quickly last season that his English would need to improve.
“Last year was a struggle,” he said. “I was a little bit shy and I wasn’t comfortable with my English. So it was hard to get with the guys in the city. This year, I’m pretty much used to it, I’m much more comfortable. I know the places to go around town and where to get everything I need.”
Even when he’s talking with teammate and fellow Quebec-native Francis Pare, Aubry says they’re using English. He reserves French only when he’s back at his apartment, with roommate Gleason Fournier. He’s also speaking primarily in native tongue when he gets tips on the pro game from his father, Pierre Aubry, who was a member of the Red Wings’ organization from 1983-87.
“I talk to him a lot, he gives me feedback,” said Aubry. “He’s come here three times this year. He tries to help me without pressuring me too much. He keeps my confidence up and supports me when I need help.”