Dominik Kubalik’s explosive January marches on as Blackhawks hammer Maple Leafs
Now tied for eighth in the league in even-strength goals, the Czech rookie has proved he must be considered an important part of the Hawks’ young generation moving forward.
TORONTO — Wing Dominik Kubalik’s rise from overlooked European league star to bona fide NHL player is a nice story.
When Kubalik said last week that he entered training camp just hoping to make the Blackhawks’ roster and that he ‘‘can’t believe’’ the success he has had since, it was a heartwarming moment. The 24-year-old Czech’s humble approachability — he contentedly occupies his corner-of-the-locker-room spot among taxi-squad guys — has endeared him to teammates even more.
But Kubalik quickly is becoming more than a cool tale, more than a pleasant surprise.
With another big night in the Hawks’ 6-2 victory Saturday against the Maple Leafs, Kubalik is cementing himself as a should-be key piece of the team for years to come.
‘‘He showed right away, early in the season, that he’s a gifted goal-scorer,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said. ‘‘Now, if you get moved to a top line, you’re expected to play good two-way hockey against other teams’ top lines. And he’s shown that he can be a top player in all facets of the game.’’
The chemistry between Kubalik and Toews went up another notch late in the second period, when Kubalik batted in a lofted pass from Toews from knee height. It was a swing worthy of Wrigley — or Guaranteed Rate — Field.
It was Toews’ fourth point and Kubalik’s second goal of the night and extended impressive streaks for both players.
Toews has 12 points in his last five games and 28 in his last 20. And Kubalik has scored nine goals in his last seven games. He’s up to 20 this season, including 18 at even strength, tying him with Hawks teammate Patrick Kane and reigning Art Ross Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov for eighth in the NHL. Among rookies, he has more than doubled second-place Cale Makar and Martin Necas.
‘‘It sounds unreal,’’ Kubalik said.
‘‘He’s finding different ways to score,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘It’s fun to watch. He’s shooting the puck, he’s going to the net, pucks are going in off him, he’s playing baseball.’’
When Kubalik scored the Hawks’ first home goal of the season on Oct. 10, he did so while playing on a line with Brandon Saad and David Kampf.
Kubalik’s career trajectory — a free agent at the end of this season, he suddenly looks poised for a sizable new contract — and role on the Hawks have changed dramatically and unexpectedly since. At this point, he needs to be viewed as an important piece of the Hawks’ young generation, not merely a productive complementary scorer.
Saad, who returned to the lineup after a month injured and scored one of the Hawks’ three goals in the first 11 minutes, said he saw it coming all along.
‘‘Even early on, getting a chance to play with him and see the things he can do, [I knew it was] only a matter of time,’’ Saad said. ‘‘He’s got the size and the speed and a great shot. The more he gets experience, the more confidence he gets, and you’re seeing that now. He’s a pretty special player.’’
Kubalik’s eruption this month has coincided with the Hawks’ most impressive extended run of the season. They have won four consecutive games, including all three on their road trip, and 10 of their last 14.
It all seems to be working, even attempting a baseball play on a hockey rink.