Blackhawks' Kubalik seeing his dreams come true
As Dominik Kubalik was getting his NHL feet wet during training camp, he was asked what it would be like to play on a line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
The star-struck rookie's answer, not surprisingly, shouldn't shock anyone.
"I don't really want to think that I could play with them," Kubalik said. "It's still like a dream for me. But I'll do whatever it takes to be with them."
That dream has since become reality for Kubalik, who has scored in four straight games and is tied with Victor Olofsson for the rookie lead with 16 goals. Two of those tallies came in a 4-2 victory over Anaheim at the United Center on Saturday.
Kubalik's emergence began in earnest when coach Jeremy Colliton put him with Toews and Brandon Saad against Arizona on Dec. 8. Before that, the 24-year-old was scuttling along and -- much like the team -- having an up-and-down season.
A pair of healthy scratches -- on Nov. 7 and 21 -- put pressure on Kubalik to turn things around.
And guess what? It worked.
"I like to play a little bit under pressure. I know what I should expect from myself," said Kubalik, who had 6 goals and 4 assists in his first 27 games. "It was probably a wake-up call when I got scratched. But I knew that it wasn't good enough.
"I'm not going to lie to myself that I was great. I wasn't."
He's been awfully great in the last 17 games, racking up 10 goals and dishing out 6 assists while averaging 14 minutes, 39 seconds of ice time.
Not surprisingly, Toews' numbers have spiked as well. After scoring just five times and handing out 10 assists in his first 29 games, the Hawks' captain has 6 goals -- all at even strength -- and 14 assists since being paired with Kubalik.
"He's just settling into knowing what to expect from me and what I want out of him, and how we can play together as a line," Toews said. "Be more trusted defensively, keep puck possession and we're going to get more ice time and more opportunities. And obviously for him that means more offense."
That offense came in a variety of ways for Kubalik over the last four games as he:
• Scored on an empty netter against Detroit on Jan. 5.
• Tipped in an Adam Boqvist blast against Calgary on Tuesday.
• Flew into the offensive zone, pounced on a loose puck and ripped a shot that beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne top shelf Thursday.
• Banged home a pair of rebounds against Anaheim by getting to the net at the perfect time.
"Very happy with (his) progression," Colliton said. "Does a lot of good things away from the puck that allow him to be ... in a situation to score. He's going to the net, he's being a shooter. It's great to see."
Now, can Kubalik keep this up? And not just for another week or another month.
But into next season and beyond?
Long is the list of players -- think Brendan Perlini or Brandon Pirri -- who get hot for a while then see their ice time dwindle once their offense disappears. Before they know it, they're traded or back in the AHL.
"Unless you're scoring 50 goals you've got to do a lot of different things out there," Toews said. "You've got to be a well-rounded player. You've got to work on those different parts of your game. You can't just score goals.
"I mean there's a lot of guys who can shoot the puck that don't really get a sniff of playing in the NHL."
Kubalik will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer, and it will be interesting to see what kind of deal he inks. Especially if his goal total climbs to 25 or higher.
As for the next few games, don't be surprised if Colliton elects to play Kubalik and Toews with Kane for longer stretches. The trio has yet to start a game together, with Colliton preferring to spread out the talent on his four lines to start. Then, when the moment's right, he'll throw them together to try and catch opponents off guard.
Regardless, Kubalik's NHL dream has been realized in many ways -- so much so that he's probably hoping he doesn't wake up anytime soon.
"My first goal was to make the team," he said. "Then I was saying to myself, 'We're gonna start there and we'll see what happens. Now it's (going like this).
"I just can't believe it. It's great."
Tale of two seasonsDominik Kubalik's first 27 games:Goals Asst. Pts. Pts/G ATOI
6 4 10 0.37 12:29
Kubalik's last 17 games:Goals Asst. Pts. Pts/G ATOI
10 6 16 0.94 14:39
ATOI: Average time on ice