Dominik Kubalik enters crucial 2nd part of Blackhawks’ season rejuvenated by family time

After a “Czech Christmas” in Chicago with his mom and wife, Kubalik needs to continue his upward trend on the ice in January.

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Dominik Kubalik’s production started to increase in December.

AP Photo/Nick Wass

Even with the extra days added, the NHL’s holiday break wasn’t quite long enough for Dominik Kubalik to go home to Plzen, Czech Republic.

So instead, his mom traveled from Plzen to spend the holiday in Chicago with Kubalik and his wife, Klara.

“We had Czech Christmas,” Kubalik said Thursday with a smile. “It’s always nice to have someone from the family around. We had all the Czech stuff, Czech food and everything.”

His mom’s trip was intended to overlap with the Blackhawks’ home-heavy December schedule, giving her several nights to watch her son play in person. But because of all the recent cancellations, she hasn’t seen a minute of competitive hockey yet. With her flight back to Europe coming up soon, the Hawks’ next two games — Saturday at the Predators and Sunday hosting the Flames — will be her last chances to catch Kubalik in action.

Still, having her around recently has helped Kubalik realize how at ease he has become in Chicago.

It has been more than two years since he arrived wide-eyed for his rookie season, needing countryman David Kampf to show him around the Hawks’ locker room during 2019 training camp. In NHL terms, that’s a long time in one place.

“I just remember when I first got here, everything was new, everything was big, there were all these people around,” he said. “I’ve gotten used to it and I feel comfortable. And you can even see it [by] when my mom was here the first time, she was a little scared of everything, and right now, she’s OK to go anywhere. It definitely feels like a second home.”

How much longer Kubalik gets to call Chicago home may well depend on his performance the rest of this season.

As a restricted free agent due a $3.7 million qualifying offer next summer but struggling significantly through the first chunk of this season, trade rumors are logically beginning to swirl. The latest buzz in Czech hockey media is Kubalik could be on the Oilers’ radar.

Kubalik’s play seemed to be finally improving just before the holiday break, though. By tipping in a Brandon Hagel shot, he got credit for the tying third-period goal Dec. 18 against the Stars, extending his technically still-alive point streak to four consecutive games.

“Offensively, [I’m trying] be around the net, create my own luck,” he said. “That’s what happened last game. I was just standing there, trying to get away from the shot, and Hagel just hit me. It’s nice sometimes to be lucky.”

He and interim coach Derek King talked often in November, during the depths of his slump, and King tried to be as positive as possible in those conversations to build back his confidence.

That approach started working in December. Over Kubalik’s first 22 games, the Hawks were outscored 18-5 and recorded a woeful 40.3% scoring chance ratio during his even-strength ice time. Over his last eight games (since Dec. 4), the Hawks have outscored their opponents 7-4 and recorded a 50.0% scoring chance ratio during his even-strength ice time.

After practice Thursday, Kubalik and King caught up with each other to discuss his progress.

“He just asked me if I had seen anything,” King said. “I said, ‘What I’ve seen is you’re playing without the puck.’ He has done a great job for us that way, and then he’s going to the net, [doing] all the little things we ask from him. That was my message to him: if he continues to do that, the offense [and] the confidence will get there. He’ll shoot one in the net instead of it going off his hip or whatever.”

Kubalik’s shooting frequency and accuracy rates remain well below his career averages, and he acknowledged that’s one area he still needs to improve. But at least he’ll enter the second part of this season trending upward and rejuvenated by family time.

Note: The Hawks activated Jujhar Khaira and Henrik Borgstrom off injured reserve Thursday and added Josiah Slavin and Alec Regula to their taxi squad, joining Brett Connolly and Arvid Soderblom.

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