High-scoring Kubalik deserves more playing time next season

  • Blackhawks forward Dominik Kubalik probably deserves more playing time next season. His solution is to play better defensively, but it's not like his underlying numbers were pitiful. Quite the opposite.

    Blackhawks forward Dominik Kubalik probably deserves more playing time next season. His solution is to play better defensively, but it's not like his underlying numbers were pitiful. Quite the opposite. Associated press

Updated 5/24/2021 6:24 AM

The day after Game 1 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, a reporter took the microphone and asked Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper why Steven Stamkos played less than 17 minutes against the Blackhawks.

I'm paraphrasing here, but Cooper's response was essentially: "How long should he have played? Would 18 have been enough? Eighteen-and-a-half?"


It wasn't an extremely testy exchange, but Cooper's point was clear: I'm the coach and, trust me, I know how to manage my guys' ice time.

Which brings us to the very interesting case of Hawks forward Dominik Kubalik.

Extremely gifted offensively, the 25-year-old Czech native scored 17 goals in 56 games, a 25-goal pace over 82 games. This after a rookie campaign in which he pumped in 30 goals and was named a Calder Trophy finalist.

Despite the steady production, Kubalik ranked seventh on the Hawks in 5-on-5 ice time (minimum 200 minutes) behind Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Pius Suter, Kirby Dach, Mattias Janmark and Vinnie Hinostroza. Taking a wider lens, only 10 of 102 forwards who scored 15-plus times averaged less ice time than Kubalik's 15:31. Seventy-five of them averaged more than 17 minutes.

So what's going on here? Shouldn't Kubalik be playing a lot more?

"Just gotta be a better overall player," Kubalik said. "I've just got to be better with small details -- get the pucks out, find my check; don't just be back-watching and stuff like that. It's just the details."

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Maybe. But it's not like Kubalik's analytics paint a dreary picture.

Quite the opposite, actually. According to naturalstattrick.com, here's how Kubalik ranked out of 13 Hawks forwards with at least 200 minutes at 5-on-5:

• First in high-danger percentage (48.7) and high-danger goals percentage (53.33).

• Tied for second in goals-for percentage (50.0) with Hinostroza and Kane. DeBrincat (55.0) led the way.

• Fifth in scoring chance percentage (46.65).

• Sixth in Corsi-for percentage (46.15).

Kubalik spent four seasons in the Czech League and two in the Swiss-A League before joining the Hawks. His wicked shot was on display from the outset, but he also showed no fear in going to the net.

Still, it's defense first for most teams -- and that's definitely the case when it comes to coach Jeremy Colliton. In addition to adjusting to the smaller ice, Kubalik's had to figure out there's no halfhearted shifts in the NHL.


Pause or think too much and you'll get pummeled.

"It's the best league in the world," Kubalik said. "There's lots of great players. That's the biggest difference because every single team in Europe has a couple of good players, (but) you (still) know you're going to be playing in the 'O' zone all the time.

"You just need to get used to it and be ready every shift here. That's just the thing I'm trying to work on. It got better as the year went on. I improved a little bit from last year, too. But still a lot of things to do and I'm going to be working on."

Still, it's more than a bit perplexing why Kubalik isn't averaging 17 to 18 minutes a game. Make him a staple on the top power-play unit by playing him in the slot where he can bury that deadly one-timer, tip in long shots from the point and/or clean up rebounds.

Now, Kubalik did average 18:07 in the last six games. Maybe that trend continues into next season. Also remember that Kubalik benefitted greatly in the second half of 2019-2020 while skating with Jonathan Toews. If Toews returns as expected, that might boost Kubalik's minutes as well.

Regardless, the affable young pro is looking forward to helping the Hawks take another step forward, both on and off the ice.

"A couple of years ago when I started playing pro hockey I was always the youngest guy," Kubalik said. "Now I'm going to be 26. Already you know that you're not young anymore. So you've got to take responsibility, you've got to be the leader.

"You want to be the guy who's going to take responsibility on the ice, too. ... That's what I want to be good at. I want to be the older guy who knows what to do. ...

"I'm very excited about (next season)."

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