It was just an exhibition game on Wednesday night when Blackhawks rookie Dominik Kubalik helped hand the St. Louis Blues their hat with two power-play goals and an assist in a 4-0 Hawks' victory.
But, why should anyone make excuses for the defending Stanley Cup champs getting blanked? All of the other exhibition contests have been spirited bouts with teams ramping up for the NHL's 24-team playoff tournament beginning Saturday. Maybe the Hawks just took the tune up opportunity more seriously and outplayed the Blues.
Regardless of the situation, what we saw from Kubalik is irrefutable proof that the Calder Trophy finalist, who scored 30 goals during the regular season, has some serious offensive talent... and it's not going away.
The rookie winger picking up where he left off is great news for the Western Conference's No. 12 Blackhawks who'll be facing the West's No. 5 Oilers on Saturday in a best-of-five play-in series with the winner advancing to Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"He's a great shooter. He's very competitive. He works hard, he's coachable," Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said via Zoom from Edmonton after Wednesday's win. "You love having those types of guys. You feel like you can play him with different types of players.
"Early on in the season we really liked him with (David) Kampf and (Brandon) Saad. They had some excellent games for us. First win we had against Edmonton they were instrumental in that win. Great kid and he's got better and better as the year's gone on. His confidence has grown and he should feel that he can make a big impact on this series."
Kubalik picking up where he left off! pic.twitter.com/mO2YqRYYQ8— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) July 30, 2020
Kubalik saw time on the Hawks third line earlier in the regular season and was there in training camp with linemates Kirby Dach and Drake Cagiula for Phase 3 training camp. Colliton decided to swap Alex DeBrincat — who had been on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad at camp — with Dominik, putting him back where he saw a lot of time before the NHL pause.
"We want guys to be comfortable in different combinations because that just allows you to be flexible at different times in the game (if) you're looking to get a jump start or you're looking to juggle things. We may go back to the other combos at some point. ... But we knew that Toews and Kubalik and Saad had a good chemistry and they play a little bit different style in the offensive zone compared to the other lines we have. So as you go into the playoffs it's only natural you'd look at that combo as being an option."
The 24-year-old forward's ability to generate offense in his first year in the NHL gives Colliton options with the player. As we saw Wednesday night, he's able to provide much-needed fire power to the Hawks' power play, which ranked 28th in the league at the time of the pause.
And just like Colliton said, he can put Kubalik with other players. If the coach needs another line to get going, he can plug Dominik in there. If he needs an individual player to get going, stick him with the rookie sensation.
Kubalik had some nice chemistry with Dach on the power play Wednesday, so it's easy to imagine them connecting to light the lamp as well if he goes back down to the third line.
"I really like to play with Saad and Tazer, we played pretty much all season like that, so it's nice to know what to expect from each other. But it's nice to play with Kirby too, because he's a young, talented player who can skate with the puck and make plays," Kubalik said Wednesday after the game.
Where Dominik can be a huge factor in the Edmonton series is in sneaking some offense past the Oilers top line in what should be a tight matchup. If we see top line vs. top line between Edmonton and Chicago they might cancel each other out. The same goes for the two teams' second lines with the Oilers' Draisaitl line and Hawks' Kane line.
So maybe it's not crazy to think that as good as Kubalik looked on the top line with Toews and Saad again that maybe it's better for the play-in series and better for the Hawks if he drops back down to the third line.
It's not just the fact that Kubalik could generate more there depending on how matchups shake out, it's also that Dach showed more skill and more muscle in training camp and that Caggiula, a wrecking ball forward with a scoring touch, is looking to assert himself to get a new contract from Chicago. That line could be especially dangerous if Kubalik is part of the trio.
He could be the X factor or the difference maker wherever he plays. Because of the regular season Kubalik had and his first showing in Edmonton, teams in the postseason tournament are on notice, they have a new Blackhawks scoring threat to worry about.