clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Blackhawks’ signings of Dominik Kubalik, Anton Wedin and Philip Holm are a result of a strong European pipeline

Another year, another three European free agents battling for roster spots with the Blackhawks.

Dominik Kubalik is one of three new Blackhawks this season brought over from European professional leagues.
Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Two-way defenseman Philip Holm had an excellent first season in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, and a number of KHL teams spent their summers pursuing him.

His NHL opportunities were far less guaranteed. He had failed to break out of the American Hockey League, playing a single game for the Canucks in 2017-18. But then the Blackhawks called.

‘‘I wanted to give it a shot,’’ Holm said Sunday. ‘‘It feels like the past couple of years, they’ve been signing a couple of European guys [every year], and they’ve taken a spot on the team and made a big impression. So, of course, that was one of the things that made me want to sign here.’’

Holm is right about the Hawks’ affinity for Europeans. General manager Stan Bowman had success bringing in overseas free agents Erik Gustafsson in 2015, David Kampf in 2017 and Dominik Kahun in 2018, so he went for the trifecta in 2019, signing Holm, Dominik Kubalik (the leading scorer in Switzerland’s pro league) and Anton Wedin (a star in Sweden’s top league).

By reaching so frequently into the European leagues for players overlooked by the NHL — of those six aforementioned signings, only Gustafsson and Kubalik were drafted, and neither were Hawks picks — and giving those players substantial roles on the NHL team, the Hawks have developed a strong reputation across the Atlantic.

That reputation now is developing into something of a pipeline.

Coming off a breakout season with Swedish club Timra IK, Wedin talked to a number of countrymen after the Hawks invited him to North America. Like Holm, he liked what he heard.

‘‘Everyone was like, ‘Chicago is a great place to be and great people in the organization and the best crowd in the league, and it’s a really great sports town,’ “ Wedin said. ‘‘Everyone had good memories from here, so that’s one reason [I came].”

The Hawks are considered a Swede-heavy team around the NHL, with Wedin and Holm joining Gustafsson, Robin Lehner, Carl Dahlstrom and others. But they could be described more broadly as Euro-heavy.

Even for Kubalik, a native of the Czech Republic, Chicago offered the ability to reunite with Kampf, a teammate on the under-20 Czech national team.

‘‘It’s always nice to come somewhere where you know somebody who can help you,’’ Kubalik said. ‘‘He’s a little bit mad at me right now because I’m still asking him: ‘What’s that? Where [are] we going? Where’s the training room?’ ’’

Kubalik, Wedin and Holm aren’t locks to make the Hawks’ roster this season, which perhaps reflects even better on their collective willingness to sign with the team.

Wedin and Holm will have to battle past a number of others ahead of them on the depth chart, although they’re off to good starts. Holm has been impressive in practice, and Wedin drew praise from coach Jeremy Colliton for his play alongside Jonathan Toews and Alex Nylander in the intrasquad scrimmage Sunday.

Kubalik, a playmaking wing who has mentioned several times how quickly he gets the puck off his stick (whether for pass or shot), is the best bet to land among the Hawks’ 18 skaters for their season opener Oct. 4 in Prague.

Oh, yes, Prague. That’s just 60 miles from Plzen, his hometown. That, too, was an enticing perk.

‘‘I don’t want to think about it too much; it’s still so far away,’’ Kubalik said thoughtfully. ‘‘But it would be amazing to play in front of family and friends and people I met during my career back in [the Czech Republic].’’