Dominik Kubalik’s Blackhawks success forming a pipeline from his Czech hometown
After Kubalik in 2019, Matej Chalupa in 2020 and Jakub Pour in 2021, the Blackhawks have now signed players from Plzen — a Czech town known better by Americans for its beer than its hockey — in three consecutive offseasons.
As a teenage prospect in the HC Plzen system, Czech forward Jakub Pour always knew of Dominik Kubalik but never played alongside him.
Pour, nearly four years younger than Kubalik, still was being groomed on the under-16, under-18 and under-20 teams while Kubalik starred for the big-league team in the Czech Extraliga. And right before Pour broke into the Extraliga in the fall of 2017, Kubalik left HC Plzen for Ambri-Piotta in Switzerland.
Despite their lack of on-ice connection, however, Pour followed and watched Kubalik as he exploded in the Swiss league, had his rights acquired by the Blackhawks, finished as a Calder Trophy finalist as a Hawks rookie in 2019-20 and continued his NHL success this past season.
So when Pour — now a 6-3 forward who turned 22 in April — received NHL interest this offseason, it was an easy decision to choose the Hawks. He signed a two-year entry-level contract June 15.
‘‘Ever since Dominik Kubalik started playing for the Blackhawks, I have been following the club in great detail,’’ Pour said in a statement at the time. ‘‘The whole organization seems very nice to me: great players, [great] traditions, great triumphs.’’
Pour expressed a similar sentiment in an interview through a translator this week.
‘‘I’m really excited to sign with the Blackhawks,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s an honor for me to join this organization. I’m looking forward to show my best and help the team.’’
As it turns out, Kubalik is just as excited. He has followed Pour’s career, too, partially by keeping in touch with HC Plzen management and partially through a mutual connection. The mother of one of Kubalik’s best friends is Pour’s mother’s sister. And Kubalik has high hopes for Pour in North America, even if he likely will start the coming season in the American Hockey League.
‘‘He’s a big kid, that’s for sure,’’ Kubalik said this week. ‘‘His shot is pretty good. He can use his body. He can play physical. He can go to the net. He’s not scared.
‘‘I’m pretty sure the North American style is going to be really good for him. He’s not like a typical European player who’s going to do more skills stuff. He’s a more up-and-down, to-the-net guy. I’m very excited for him.’’
Pour joins Kubalik and Matej Chalupa, who signed with the Hawks in May 2020 and scored seven points in 27 AHL games this past season, as HC Plzen products in the Hawks’ organization.
Americans primarily know Plzen, the Czech Republic’s fourth-largest city, as the birthplace and namesake of pilsner beer. Its hockey roots are also strong, however. Longtime NHL players Petr Sykora and Jaroslav Spacek developed there in the 1990s, and Tuukka Rask spent a half-season there during the 2012 NHL lockout.
In more recent years, the club has focused its resources on developing young talent and helping players progress to North America or larger European clubs.
‘‘They’re not the richest team in the [Czech] league, so they’ve got to be working with the money they have,’’ Kubalik explained. ‘‘Then they need to use those young guys, which is pretty good for [the young guys because] they can play big minutes on the top line.’’
Defensemen Vojtech Mozik and Jakub Jerabek and goalies Marek Mazanec and Matej Machovsky parlayed time with Plzen into NHL contracts between 2013 and 2017. All eventually played a few NHL games; Jerabek led the pack with 37.
Forward Dominik Simon had been Plzen’s biggest recent success story, having left after only one season to sign with the Penguins in 2015. Now 26, he has put up 64 points in 184 games for the Penguins and Flames and remains in the NHL.
But Kubalik has taken things to a different level. The 25-year-old sharpshooter quickly has proved himself to be a dangerous top-six NHL forward, ranking third on the Hawks in scoring each of the last two seasons and signing a two-year, $7.4 million contract last summer.
Kubalik has notched 47 goals and 84 points in 124 NHL games. He might not already be a household name in Illinois, but he is around Plzen.
‘‘It’s pretty cool, you know?’’ Kubalik said. ‘‘I can say that I showed the other guys that it’s possible. Some guys were in the middle, [saying], like: ‘Should I try [going to the NHL]? Maybe I have a chance, or I don’t.’ They were struggling a little bit.
‘‘It’s pretty good for the team, for Plzen. . . . I didn’t even expect, when I went to Switzerland, that there were going to be more guys coming [to the NHL], especially to Chicago. It’s pretty good because we know each other, so it’s easier for me and easier for them, too.’’
The seven-hour time difference between the cities makes it hard for those in Plzen to watch Kubalik and the Hawks play live, but sometimes the lack of sleep was worth it to Pour.
‘‘The games out here are during the night . . . [but] I watched a couple of games,’’ Pour said. ‘‘But I mostly watched the highlights and saw all of Kubalik’s goals.’’
Kubalik and Pour haven’t yet talked this summer because Kubalik has been busy. He played for the Czech national team in the world championships, where he finished with six points in seven games but was disappointed by a quarterfinal exit. More recently, preparations for his wedding this weekend have taken over.
‘‘Right now I’m a little bit stressed, but that’s probably part of it,’’ he said, chuckling.
But once things calm down, Kubalik and Pour will be around Plzen, skating and training together. Martin Straka, another of HC Plzen’s notable NHL alumni and now its general manager, gave Kubalik permission to skate and practice with the team this offseason.
Kubalik plans to spend two more weeks working out off the ice, then take Straka up on his offer. Pour already has been on the ice for five or six weeks. Come September, they and Chalupa will travel the Plzen-to-Chicago pipeline to Hawks training camp.