Braden Holtby got to know Keith Aucoin very well from their time with the Hershey Bears and then the Washington Capitals.
“Keith was kind of one of those guys who would hang out with anyone, really,” Holtby said. “That’s probably one of the best things about him.”
Off the ice, Aucoin was as personable a guy as you could find in the Caps’ locker room last season, from the time he was called up through the end of the playoffs. On the ice, the 5-foot-8, 171-pound forward was just happy to get a chance to play in the NHL after spending the vast majority of his professional career in the minors.
Now that he’s off to a hot start with the New York Islanders (three goals and an assist), his ex-teammates are noticing and happy to see Aucoin having this kind of success.
“I saw he had a two-goal game the other day in Boston so it’s pretty great for him,” ex-Caps and current Philadelphia Flyers right wing Mike Knuble said. “It’s great to see him get a chance. He’s just a guy who just hung in there and kept battling. Great American [Hockey] League scorer. It’s different scoring down there than it is in the NHL, but you’ve got to hand it to him for his perseverance. He’s just kept plugging along.”
At age 34, Aucoin is far from a rookie and this is far from his first experience playing at hockey’s highest level. But after more than 800 minor league games and just over 100 in the NHL, he’s hoping to stick for real this time.
If linemates David Ullstrom and Colin McDonald, wife Maureen and the Islanders’ front office are rooting for Aucoin the most, his ex-teammates aren’t far behind.
“It’s obviously awesome,” Caps center Jay Beagle said. “Coiner I played with him a couple years there in the minors and won two [Calder] Cups with him, so we were pretty close. To see a guy succeed like that and have a good start, I’m happy for the guy.”
Knuble blossomed after turning 30, but he got a chance with the Detroit Red Wings in his 20s that Aucoin never got. Still, former teammates believe Aucoin can stick in the NHL into his 40s.
“Obviously very, very skilled,” Holtby said. “The way he plays, even though he’s a little older, he can play for a while in the NHL, just the style of game he plays.”
Aucoin is on a one-year contract, as he has been for quite a while, but he too hopes his style can extend his career.
“I keep myself in good shape,” Aucoin said. “Being a small guy, you’ve got to be able to keep your quickness, especially so the bigger guys can’t get a hold of you and wear you down. When you have a skill, it’s not going to go away. I think if you have the knack of setting up your linemates, being a playmaker or scoring goals, that’s not going to go anywhere. I’ve never lost that; I don’t think I ever will.”