After acquiring his rights from the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 24 in exchange for a 2019 fifth-round draft pick, the Blackhawks have officially agreed to terms with 23-year-old forward prospect Dominik Kubalik on a one-year deal worth $925,000. He was originally selected by the Kings in the seventh round (No. 191 overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft but did not sign a contract.
"It's amazing," Kubalik said on a conference call Wednesday of signing with the Blackhawks organization. "I'm looking forward to play and really excited for whatever happens in the future. I'm excited to see Chicago and all the people there. I'm so excited, really, really happy."
A 6-foot-2, 190-pound winger, Kubalik had a breakout season in the National League — the top tier of the Swiss hockey league — by ranking first in points (57), second in assists (35) and third in goals (25). He also averaged more than a point-per-game in the playoffs with one goal and five assists in five contests for HC Ambrì-Piotta.
Kubalik carried that success to international competition. Representing the Czech Republic at the 2019 IIHF World Championship, he finished eighth among all skaters with 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 10 games and was tied for fourth with a plus-10 rating. Perhaps more importantly, Kubalik said he gained invaluable experience learning from teammates like Radko Gudas and Jakub Voracek, who have combined for more than 1,300 career NHL games.
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman talked about Kubalik during exit interviews in April and envisions him being part of the roster next season. And they're hoping he could make a similar impact as Dominik Kahun, who played with Kubalik from 2012-14 in the Ontario Hockey League.
“A dynamic offensive player,” Bowman said of Kubalik. “He’s got size and speed and can score. We’re hoping he can come in and we’re expecting him to be on the team. Where he fits is going to be a question. We’ll see where it plays out, but I expect him to be an offensive player for us.”
Kubalik said he and Bowman did not talk about what his role may be with the Blackhawks, but it's clear Kubalik is planning on being on the 2019-20 Opening Day roster.
"My goal is to make the team, for sure," Kubalik said. "And to play the way I did so far."
The Blackhawks are going to put Kubalik in the best possible position to flourish from the start, as they did with Kahun in his first NHL season when they put him on the top line with Jonathan Toews. They essentially want Kubalik to feel comfortable from the get-go, which the organization likes to do with its overseas signings because it's a tough transition — both on and off the ice.
Kubalik notes that the Swiss league is getting closer and closer to the NHL's style of play, and hopes that his OHL experience will help in his transition to a smaller ice surface.
"Obviously, there will be some difference," Kubalik said. "But I hope I'm ready for that, ready to take the step."
Kubalik, whose strengths include speed and a strong shot, has the offensive skill to contribute in the top-six — and even the second power-play unit — if needed but might be better suited providing secondary scoring on the third line if the Blackhawks follow through with their plans to have an aggressive summer via free agency, which should include shoring up their top-nine forward depth.
The biggest area for improvement is on the defensive side of things. But that's also where Kubalik felt he took the biggest stride.
"In the middle of the season we started to really work on it and I felt better and better obviously because when you can do both things like power play and penalty kill it's always great because you're on the ice," Kubalik said. "I think that was the biggest difference than the last couple years when I was just an offensive guy, that's what I was trying to work on it."
The Kubalik signing comes a week after the Blackhawks also agreed to a one-year deal with 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin, another overseas product who could compete for a full-time roster spot.
One thing is for certain: the Blackhawks are going to have some heavy competition at training camp in September.