It’s safe to say that Dominik Kubalik is the dark horse of the Chicago Blackhawks. With 21 goals and 11 assists in 49 games, he’s a rising star in the Blackhawks locker room and is in the discussion for a possible nomination for the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year.
Here is a quick look at the history of Kubalik’s professional career and impressive rookie season.
Despite being drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Kubalik competed in several different junior and professional leagues before making his NHL debut in 2019-20.
He tallied one goal in eight games with Plzen HC of Czech Extraliga (the Czech equivalent of the NHL) before moving onto the Ontario Hockey League. He divided his time between two teams in two seasons with the OHL, tallying a total of 35 goals and 28 assists in 126 games. He went back to Plzen HC for four seasons, where he tallied 73 goals and 46 assists in 154 games. Then he spent the past two seasons with Ambri-Piotta of the Swiss National League, where he recorded 35 goals and 49 assists over 75 games.
His numbers prior to the NHL were rather inconsistent, but he wasted no time proving that he belonged in the NHL.
Rookie Year (So Far)
As mentioned, Kubalik has tallied a total of 21 goals and 11 assists in 49 games. It’s safe to say that he’s had a successful season so far. When asked as to why he’s been so successful, Kubalik told NBC Sports Chicago, “It’s tough to say. From the beginning, I’m trying to do my best, trying to shoot the puck. That’s one of my strengths. That’s what I’m trying to do and the last couple of games it’s going in. So you’re building confidence, and it’s getting better and better. I’m really enjoying my time right now.”
Whatever Kubalik is doing to help him become successful in the NHL is working, and he has earned the respect of some of the top players in the league. Blackhawks captain and teammate Jonathan Toews is impressed with Kubalik’s progression.
Toews told the Chicago Sun-Times, ‘‘He showed right away, early in the season, that he’s a gifted goal-scorer. Now, if you get moved to a top line, you’re expected to play good two-way hockey against other teams’ top lines. And he’s shown that he can be a top player in all facets of the game.’’(from ‘Dominik Kubalik’s explosive January marches on as Blackhawks hammer Maple Leafs’ – Chicago Sun-Times – 1/18/20).
Praise from an accomplished player like Toews is something to be proud of, but he has also received praise from head coach Jeremy Colliton. Kubalik’s strong start (he scored his first NHL goal in his second NHL game) and consistent scoring has helped the Blackhawks offensively. Colliton told NBC Sports Chicago, “I’m very happy with Kubalik’s progression. He does a lot of things away from the puck that allows him to be put in a situation to score. He’s going to the net, he’s a shooter, and it’s great to see.”
Calder Trophy Contender
As the strongest scorer amongst NHL rookies, Kubalik has a strong case for the Calder Trophy. He leads all rookies in goals by a five-goal margin and has the second most of anyone on the Blackhawks.
Colliton has a theory as to why he’s such a strong scorer, as he told NHL.com, “If you look at his goals, you’d be surprised how many he scores from just being at the net, just standing there, being in front. You can get a rebound, or it goes off you. That’s one thing that’s really helped him this season. It’s not just parking in the slot and hit a one-timer. There’s that, but I’d say most of his goals are either skating, off the rush, or finding a way to be around the net for a quick play or a rebound or just jumping on a loose puck. That’s a big reason why his production has really accelerated.”
Many components go into winning the Calder Trophy, but Kubalik’s ability to score difficult goals is enough to get a nomination. The last two Blackhawks to win the Calder Trophy were Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane. They were also strong scorers in their rookie seasons. Panarin tallied 30 goals, and Kane tallied 21. Kubalik has already tied Kane, and if he continues on his current momentum, he will likely surpass Panarin as well.
Kubalik’s contract expires at the end of the season, making him a restricted free agent come July. He isn’t the only forward on the chopping block, for Dylan Strome, Drake Caggiula, and Matthew Highmore have contracts that will expire at the end of the season. I have written previously of the importance of Strome staying on the roster, but it would be impossible to keep all four forwards under the salary cap. Strome and Kubalik are the strongest forwards in the group and will likely be the most expensive to re-sign.
Both Strome and Kubalik have the rest of the season to prove why they should remain on the roster, but anything can happen between now and free agency. It can be strongly argued that keeping them both would be a smart investment, but only time will tell the fate of both Kubalik and Strome.
Kubalik has truly been the dark horse of the Blackhawks this season. He wasn’t on anyone’s radar upon his arrival but is now one of the best scorers on the Blackhawks and the top scorer of NHL rookies. If he finishes the season with a Calder Trophy, he will truly cement a legacy as one of the strongest rookies in franchise history.