DENVER Dominik Kubalik’s 2019-20 season went so perfectly that he thought he might as well repeat it in 2021.
I said, if I’m 30 . score [goals] again, it would be great, he said, laughing at his naivety. Then after 15 [goals]I’m like, oh, okay. I don’t think I’ll make it.
Even though it didn’t quite work out that way Kubalik’s 15th goal came with just nine out of 56 games to play in the pandemic shortened season, he still proved that his incredible rookie success was far from a fluke. He scored eight points less in 2021, but did so in 12 fewer games, so he actually exactly doubled his scoring percentage per game from 0.68 points per game.
During his first two seasons in the NHL, both of which were short, he has scored 47 goals and 37 assists. Only three Blackhawks players since 1991 have often hit the back of the net in their first 124 games of their career: Kubalik, Artemi Panarin (also 47) and Jonathan Toews (49). He is in quite exalted company.
The challenge will be to hold on to his hunger in Season No. 3, given how generally smooth the first two have gone. But he’s not worried that will be a problem.
There is always something, said Kubalik. The first season, of course, you want to show that you can play in the NHL. The second, you want to prove yourself [prove] it wasn’t just any lucky season. And the third, it will be my first hopefully normal season with 82 games.
It will be something new again. I’m just trying to be ready and immediately try to step back where I left off last year.
If there has been a rough cut of Kubaliks Hawks thus far, it was the first month of last season. He has not scored a single goal of equal strength in his first 16 games.
But Kubalik learned from that drought. He improved his game and passing, eventually finishing with five more assists in 2021 than all of 2019-20. He increased his firing rate and accuracy as his shot of equal strength increased from 15.2 to 15.6 per 60 minutes and his percentage on target increased from 58.5% to 64.0%.
And he realized that going into a season with specific stat goals is not a good mental strategy for him, he found himself thinking about it too much.
I kind of had it in my head what I wanted to do, [but the] beginning of the season was not very good for me, he said. So since then I just don’t think about it anymore. Whatever comes will come… I try to tackle the things I can really handle, and that’s to get ready, skate [and] play it hard.
Kubaliks’ reunion with Toews, who helped power Kubalik’s 10-goals-in-eight games explosion in January 2020, should give another boost to this season. She and Philipp Kurashev formed a well-rounded line during the training camp.
But it remains to be seen whether Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton will fully unleash Kubalik, minute by minute, this fall. Colliton only played him a modest 15:31 per game in the spring (and 14:22 per game in 2019-20), asking him to improve his defensive efforts.
He has continued to improve every year, Colliton said. He has to be confident in his abilities, what he can do at our level. [We just want more] consistency shift-to-shift. We know he can score… [about] the other shifts. Can he continue to have a good effect on the team and the game when he is on the ice?
That quest for consistency could fuel Kubalik in 2021-22.
not me [want to] only play two pretty good games and then have two free games, he said. I want [know] the high standard will be there every night. That will be my goal.
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