Dominik Kubalik is in his third NHL season with the Blackhawks and this one has been the most challenging of them all so far, bar none. He's a goal scorer at his core who's having a tough time finding the back of the net, and doing so on a consistent basis.
Asked after Tuesday's morning skate whether he's ever been through something like this, Kubalik responded quickly and directly.
"Nope," Kubalik laughed, before giving a mature answer. "But I think it's a good thing, too. There's always something to learn from it. I'm pretty sure that it's going to make me a better hockey player."
Kubalik has only one goal in his last 15 games and 11 total through 58 games this season. He's on pace to finish with 15, which would be a new season-low.
Kubalik, of course, scored 30 in his rookie campaign that helped him become a Calder Trophy finalist and he even potted 17 in last season's 56-game shortened campaign.
When Kubalik was in a scoring drought earlier in the season, he sat down with interim head coach Derek King to go over some film and it made him feel a lot better because the tape indicated that he was getting his chances, they just weren't going in.
Well, a few games ago, Kubalik decided it was time for another chat with his coach. It was him that stepped into King's office, not the other way around, which King appreciated because he knows what it's like to be in Kubalik's skates.
"I love it," King said. "I love the fact that guys, especially Kuby, when he's struggling a little bit and feels confident enough where he can just come in and sit down and talk, have a coffee, and I throw the video up of his last game. Sometimes when we're doing this, we'll stop it when we want, and sometimes we forget it's playing and we just talk.
"It's good. I've been there. I've been Kuby. I've struggled to score goals at times. I was a pretty streaky goal scorer. You go through the ups and downs of this game, so I understand where he's coming from.
"We would just chat, try to talk to him about what to do, little things I learned to do as a player. You always think you're working hard when you're not scoring and then you find out that you're probably not working as hard as you should be, so it was good for him. And I think he's made some good changes in his game where he's hungry for pucks a little more and he's staying in the fight and he's skating a lot better, too."
Kubalik seems to have a good head on his shoulders, but it's fair to wonder how much of his uncertain future could be weighing on him. The 26-year-old winger is in the final year of his contract and will be a pending restricted free agent with arbitration rights at the end of the season.
Perhaps more notably, Kubalik's name will probably start popping up in rumors with the March 21 NHL trade deadline right around the corner. Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson is preparing for a rebuild, and Kubalik may garner some interest around the league if teams believe there's some untapped potential there.
Kubalik didn't seem too fazed about the possibility of his name being out there, although it will be difficult to ignore the rumors in the next week and a half.
"Everybody knows about it," Kubalik said. "Social media things, there's no way to get away. There's the deadline, there's different things in the world going on right now, so there's things you can't really get away from. But that's what it is, that's hockey. I've been through this my first two years, and sometimes it is about you, sometimes not, so you've got to live with that and try to keep it away from your mind."
I'm not sure now is the right time to trade Kubalik if you're the Blackhawks, even if he may not be part of Chicago's long-term plans. You'd be selling low for a player who's shown he can score 30 goals in a season and trading him just to get a mid-round pick back isn't the kind of move that would kickstart a rebuild.
The better route would probably be for both sides to agree on a short-term extension, get Kubalik's game back on track, and then revisit the trade market if that's a road the Blackhawks eventually want to go down.
"It's not a thing I want to think about right now," Kubalik said of his future. "I just want to focus on my game. There's for sure some things I can do better on the ice. We'll see what's going to happen and if I'm going to fit in or what's going to be the solution for me."
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