Kubalik deserves more rope, bigger role on Blackhawks

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Blackhawks forward Dominik Kubalik gets ahead of Tampa Bay's Anthony Cirelli in the first period of the Lightning's win Wednesday. Kubalik played only 11 minutes in the game.

    Blackhawks forward Dominik Kubalik gets ahead of Tampa Bay's Anthony Cirelli in the first period of the Lightning's win Wednesday. Kubalik played only 11 minutes in the game. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/15/2021 10:08 PM

Sports writers conduct thousands of interviews over the course of their careers.

And while most aren't particularly memorable, a few stick with us.

 

For me, one of those was my conversation with then-Vegas coach Gerard Gallant in early 2018 about his wildly successful expansion team.

Gallant's philosophy was simple: Make sure his players weren't looking over their shoulders after every mistake. Give the guys some leeway and let them learn from the occasional gaffe.

"They're going to go back on the ice and they're going to play through those mistakes," Gallant said. "That's been my philosophy for a long time and I think the players enjoy that."

Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton, whose team is officially entering a rebuilding phase, said he would adopt a similar attitude this season.

"I feel that's part of how you have a winning culture and a winning team -- guys are excited to play and they're not feeling scared," Colliton said last week. "They're hunting out there, being on their toes, aggressive. That's the kind of environment we want to have."

Yet, that's not what happened in the season opener when the Hawks lost 5-1 at Tampa Bay.

Trailing the most explosive team in the NHL 3-0 after one period, Colliton played 30-goal scorer Dominik Kubalik less than eight minutes the rest of the way.

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Just imagine that happening to Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Patrick Sharp or Marian Hossa.

"Unforgivable," one former player told me.

Now, obviously Kubalik isn't in the same echelon as Kane, Panarin, Sharp and Hossa, but he definitely has the potential to ascend to those heights.

"I like to play under pressure," Kubalik said Thursday. "I want to be out there, I want to be a leader -- to play every single situation, especially with us missing (Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach). There's a couple guys who (have) to step up. I feel like I'm one of them."

That obviously can't happen by getting on the ice for just 11½ minutes, which is less time than fourth-liners Matthew Highmore, Ryan Carpenter and David Kampf received.

It's important to note Kubalik and fellow linemates Brandon Pirri and Pius Suter had a rough game in the opener. They were on the ice for two of Tampa Bay's goals and didn't produce many great chances offensively.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Still, why limit one of your best offensive players when you're trailing 3-0 and then 4-0?

Here was Colliton's response before the Hawks lost 5-2 to the Lightning on Friday: "At some point, it's 4-nothing, 5-nothing. We're trying to see what we have and try to see what changes we might want to make and let things play out a little bit. I think we did that."

Fair enough.

But there's still no denying Kubalik, who took 3 shots on goal in 15:53 Friday, should be on the ice a minimum of 16 minutes a night -- and more like 18 to 21.

He should be with Kane on the top line, not on the third. He also belongs on the top power-play unit. Kubalik saw just 40 seconds of PP time in the opener, while Andrew Shaw got 5 minutes.

"You want to play as much as you can, that's for sure," said Kubalik, who pumped in 24 goals in the Hawks' final 41 games last season. "I want to be out there in every single situation."

And he should be.

This is a player whose star remains on the rise and will only get brighter as time goes on.

So stop dimming it. Recognize what you have, put him in a more prominent role and -- most importantly -- let him play through the inevitable mistakes.

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