Chicago Blackhawks forward Kubalik named Calder Trophy finalist
An incredible season has led to an incredible honor for Dominik Kubalik on Wednesday as the Blackhawks forward was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL's top rookie.
Kubalik, who scored 30 goals in 68 games, became just the fifth rookie in franchise history to reach that milestone. What makes the feat so remarkable is Kubalik did it during a shortened season while averaging a paltry 14 minutes, 22 seconds of ice time and seeing very little action on the first-unit power play.
"It's an honor. I just couldn't believe it," said the 24-year-old Kubalik, who scored 25 goals in the Swiss-A league last season and was acquired by the Hawks in a trade with Los Angeles on Jan. 24, 2019. "Coming from Europe obviously you have some goals, but you don't (dream) that high -- like to be a (Calder) finalist.
"It's just great. A lot of (other) guys could be here too, so I'm really happy that I'm here."
The two other finalists are both defensemen -- Colorado's Cale Makar (12G, 38A in 57 GP) and Vancouver's Quinn Hughes (8G, 45A in 68 GP). Hughes became just the third D-man in the modern era to top all rookies in scoring. Meanwhile, Makar's 0.88 points per game is a feat accomplished by only three other rookie blue liners in NHL history.
Kubalik flashed a wicked shot during training camp and exhibition games, but he struggled to find his footing early in the regular season and was even a healthy scratch in Game 15 vs. Vancouver and Game 22 vs. Tampa Bay.
That second benching elicited the response coach Jeremy Colliton was looking for from the normally affable Kubalik -- anger.
"The one time he maybe wasn't surprised to come out," Colliton said Wednesday after the Hawks practiced at Fifth Third Arena. "Then the reaction you want to get is they're angry about coming out.
"(The second) time we got that, and going through that sometimes can help you reach another level of consistency where you're just not going to allow yourself to be in that conversation of coming in and out of the lineup."
Two weeks after sitting out that 4-2 loss to the Lightning, Kubalik found himself on the top line with Jonathan Toews.
That's when everything started to click. Suddenly, Kubalik -- who had just 6 goals in his first 27 appearances -- was scoring at will and tearing up the league.
A 15-goal outburst in just 21 games skyrocketed Kubalik's goal total to 21 by Game 50. His 30th goal came in the Hawks' final game, a 6-2 victory over San Jose on March 11.
"I had 15 and was like, 'OK, let's try to reach 20.' " Kubalik told me just a week before the NHL paused the season due to the coronavirus. "Then I was like, 'OK. Still hungry, so let's (get) to 25.'
"Then I (hit) 25 pretty quick and was like, 'OK, we've got 27. Twenty-eight! Twenty-nine! (Expletive!) What's going on here?"
Kubalik would be the first Czech-born player to win the Calder as well as the 10th in Hawks history. The last two were Artemi Panarin (2015-16) and Patrick Kane (2007-08).
Kubalik was No. 1 among rookies and No. 7 overall in shooting percentage (19.1) and also was in the top 10 among rookies in shots on goal (1st; 157), points (3rd; 46), power-play goals (t-6th; 4), game-winning goals (t‑6th; 3), assists (t-9th; 16) and power-play points (t-10th; 8).
"It's a big honor. Big accolade for him, which he fully deserves," Colliton said. "Really happy with his progression as the year went on. ...
"Like any young guy there (were) some ups and downs to his game, but I thought he was able to snap back quickly and get back to his maximum level."
The Hawks and defenseman Ian Mitchell decided they will not burn a year of his entry-level contract this season, according to The Athletic's Scott Powers. Mitchell, 21, was drafted in the second round by the Hawks in 2017 and played the last three seasons for the University of Denver. His contract will run through the 2022-23 season.
There was no change in the status of goaltender Corey Crawford (unfit to play) or defenseman Calvin de Haan (family emergency) on Wednesday. The Hawks will not practice Thursday.
Goal orientedMost goals by a Blackhawks rookie
Player, season Goals
Stever Larmer, 1982-83 43
Darryl Sutter, 1980-81 40
Dominik Kubalik, 2019-20 30
Artemi Panarin, 2015-16 30
Eric Daze, 1995-96 30