Born Feb. 29, Brayden Michael Aucoin won’t remember his first few months. But the son of Keith and Maureen will have an unbeatable story to tell one day.
“When my son’s older, he knows he was born when I was in the NHL,” beaming father Keith Aucoin said.
What had been an impressive minor league season for Aucoin has turned into a miraculous tale of not only his surprising ascent to Washington Capitals regular but his impeccable timing. Aucoin obviously knew for a while that his family would be growing, but months ago the journeyman forward couldn’t have predicted being a part of an NHL playoff run.
“You try not to think about it. You try to just play. But you know you’re getting old and you want to get another chance,” Aucoin, 33, said. “I finally got the call, and I’m taking advantage of it.”
Aucoin has spent much of his pro career in the American Hockey League, putting up numbers that likely will get him into that league’s Hall of Fame once he retires.
He is more than a point-a-game player at that level, spending the past four years filling the stat sheet for the Hershey Bears, the Caps’ top affiliate.
But Aucoin hasn’t been able to make his cups of coffee in the NHL last very long. Wednesday was his 90th NHL game in a career featuring Caps and Carolina Hurricanes cameos, and his first with three points.
One thing seems certain going into Washington’s final 12 games of the regular season: Aucoin isn’t going anywhere. That’s a relief for a guy who put a lot of miles on his Chevy Tahoe in recent months making the trip back and forth from Hershey and talked about how Maureen and their French bulldog, Jersey, missed him when he was gone.
“It feels good, especially after the last month going up three, four times, knowing you’re going to be here and knowing you’re part of this team now,” Aucoin said. “You feel more a part of the team that you’re going to be here. I feel like I’ve been helping out the last few weeks, which was huge.”
Since he has reached 10 games with the Caps this season, they must put him on waivers to send him back to the Bears.
Fat chance that’s going to happen, given his value at both levels of the organization.
Generously listed at 5-foot-9, Aucoin might hit that mark on skates. Maybe. But teammates and coaches see the natural talent that allows him to play bigger than his size.
“We all know he’s not a big guy. But he’s smart player,” Caps coach Dale Hunter said. “He’s a real good playmaker. He sees the ice well and creates a lot for us.”
Aucoin is an offensive specialist, to say the least, and he might be a key cog on Washington’s power play down the stretch, too.
He was part of a Hershey unit that clicked at a rate of roughly 30 percent, thanks in large part to Aucoin’s ability to create space and find teammates.
“He used to play power play in the American League for his whole life and he’s one of the best at it in that league. He’s probably the best at it,” center Mathieu Perreault said. “He knows what he’s doing out there, and you can see it the past few games on the power play.”
Aucoin knows what he’s doing in the offensive zone no matter the situation.
On the fourth line with the likes of Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward and Mike Knuble, Aucoin is a wiz at protecting the puck along the boards and not turning it over. Put him out there with Alex Ovechkin and other skilled players and he can thread a perfect pass to set up a scoring chance.
More than a few around the Capitals mentioned that Aucoin uses a long stick for a player of his stature, which allows him to trick opponents into thinking they can give him more space.
And though he doesn’t possess burning speed like Perreault or Marcus Johansson, Aucoin finds ways to compensate for a height disadvantage.
“He doesn’t look that fast, but he’s quicker than we think. He’s so smart that he makes everything easy on himself,” Perreault said. “That makes up for maybe not being as fast as me or [Johansson], but he’s still a fast player. You don’t notice him, but he’s really quick.”
Now, Aucoin is quickly carving out a niche with the Capitals, and doing so with Maureen, Brayden and Jersey in town after they moved from Hershey.
“To share it with them both being here is a lot of fun,” Aucoin said. “We’re going to enjoy it as long as we can.”