The Chicago Blackhawks reached their pinnacle in June of 2015 with their third Stanley Cup in six seasons. However, as we all know, things have not gone well since. After being bounced in seven games by the St. Louis Blues in 2016 and being swept by the Nashville Predators in 2017, the Blackhawks have not qualified for the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
The pressure is on general manager Stan Bowman as the “One Goal” standard that was set earlier this decade is no longer being met. Over the next few weeks, we are going to look at the changes made to the roster and profile all the new faces for the 2019-20 season.
Another Low-Risk/High-Reward Move
Bowman made his first significant move for the upcoming season back on January 24 when he sent a fifth-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for forward Dominik Kubalik. The soon-to-be 24-year-old left winger was originally drafted by the Kings in the seventh round (191st overall) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
This was one of many low-risk, high-reward moves Bowman has made over the years. When your team is constantly dealing with salary cap restraints you have to look for some diamonds in the rough with players who have had success in Europe. We have seen this in the past with some mixed results in players like Erik Gustafsson, Michal Kempny, Jan Rutta, David Kampf and most recently, Dominik Kahun.
Even though he was drafted by the Kings in 2013, Kabalik has not played in North American since 2014 when he split the season between the Sudbury Wolves and Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League. After three seasons playing professionally in his native Czech Republic, he split the 2017-18 season between HC Plzen of the Czech Extraliga and HC Ambri-Piotta in Switzerland’s National League.
Breakout Season Leads to High Hopes in Chicago
Kubalik had a breakout season in 2018-19 with Ambri-Piotta. In 50 regular-season games, he had 25 goals and 57 points, which lead the NLA in scoring. This was his third season of at least 25 goals in Europe and his 32 assists and 57 points were career highs. He added a goal and five assists in the team’s five playoff games. Kubalik was named the NLA’s Best Forward and Most Valuable Player for his efforts.
If you watched this past spring’s IIHF World Championship, you couldn’t help but notice Kubalik’s play. He finished the tournament as one of the top scorers with six goals and 12 points in 10 games. Nikita Gusev of Russia was the only other player with no NHL experience to have more points than Kubalik.
The Blackhawks have been watching Kubalik for a couple of years now and they jumped at the chance to acquire his rights when it became apparent that he was not going to sign with the Kings. He has a lot of the physical attributes as well as the skillset in order to succeed in the NHL.
Kubalik is 6-foot-2 and 179 pounds. He is not the most physical player on the ice, but he does not shy away from contact either. In fact, getting to the front of the net is one of the strongest parts of his game. If you are a fan of guys who provide net-front presence, then you are going to be a fan of Kubalik.
You don’t have three 25-plus goal seasons without some offensive ability either. Kubalik’s shot is touted by scouts. His shot is hard coming off the stick and is quite accurate. He is also a very good skater so adjusting to the NHL game should not be too hard out of the gates.
“Immediately when he arrived in the National League (Switzerland) during last season, we could see that he’s got something special,” Swiss blogger Damiano Cansani recently told Blackhawk Up. “He’s very fast, an excellent skater, and he can score a lot. I mean, he’s a real sniper!”
His shot can get to the back of the net from a great distance, he can score from the front of the net and he is also a very unselfish player. In addition to his scoring ability, Kubalik is a very talented passer and has no problems creating scoring chances for his teammates by giving up the puck.
While Kubalik has a lot to offer when his team has the puck, his defense could use some improvement. He is not a complete mess defensively, by any means, but, like most young players he needs to focus more on his own end of the ice. That being said, he was deployed quite a bit on the penalty kill for Ambri-Piotta last season, so he can be trusted.
Where Does Kubalik Fit on the Blackhawks Roster?
Bowman signed Kubalik to a one-year contract worth $925,000 in late-May. It sounds that both sides feel that he will be on the opening night roster for the Blackhawks.
“We’re hoping he can come in and we’re expecting him to be on the team. Where he fits is going to be a question. We’ll see where it plays out, but I expect him to be an offensive player for us,” Bowman said during Kubalik’s introductory conference call.
There is no doubt that Blackhawks can use as much scoring depth as they can get, so Kubalik will get every chance possible to make the team out of training camp.
“It’s an honor to be in this organization. My goal is to make the team for sure…When I talked to Stan we didn’t really talk about what my role is going to be, it was just a welcome to the organization and we talked about the future.” Kubalik told the Blackhawks official website.
So what exactly can Blackhawks fans expect out of the team’s newest European import? Hopefully, he will fill the role that Kahun played last season (we will talk about his departure in a future post of this series). Kubalik can be a versatile asset who can play and produce up and down the lineup. He will also be in the mix to play on the penalty kill, only adding to his value.
TSN analyst Ray Ferraro covered the World Championship and gave Scott Powers of The Athletic a good idea of what we could see out of Kubalik in Chicago.
“I don’t know how much offense will come with Kubalik because the game is different. Where I think he has a chance to be successful is he has size and the ability to get around the ice. His versatility might allow him to play up and down the lineup. That’s where I see him initially.
“He’s not going to be on the top line. A lot of times when you talk about that, he’s not going to be on the top line, people think that’s a terrible thing. I’m here at the Stanley Cup final and here a lot of people are talking about Oskar Sundqvist, Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson and they’re not top-line players. It’s different. We know it’s different in Chicago. There’s Patrick Kane at the top of the lineup, but you still got to fill the rest of the lineup. You have places you have to fill.”
from “Why Dominik Kubalik may be an underrated offseason addition for the Blackhawks”, The AthleticNHL – 6/9/19
Best case scenario, Kubalik does exactly what Kahun did last year, if not more, by playing up and down the lineup and providing some secondary scoring. If he doesn’t work out, all you gave up was a fifth-round pick which was traded a total of three times before the Montreal Canadiens used it to select goaltender Frederik Nissen.