Sure, a deeper playoff run would have been great, but for Blackhawks rookie Dominik Kubalik — a Calder Trophy finalist — this year went far better than he could have imagined.
After scoring 30 goals in his debut NHL season, Kubalik added eight points (four goals, four assists) in the Hawks' nine-game postseason showing in Edmonton against the Oilers and Golden Knights.
Starting the 2019-20 season, and his NHL career, in Prague for the NHL's Global series — which had the Blackhawks taking on the Philadelphia Flyers — was especially meaningful for the Czech forward.
"We had this conversation a couple of days ago when I got back, with my family. Obviously we were saying exactly a year ago we were hoping I’d play my first game (in the NHL) and when I found out, the first thing was write everyone back in Czech that I was coming to Prague for the first game. From that moment, it was a nice story. Everything starts in Prague," Kubalik, 25, said in his end of the year Zoom call with Hawks media on Thursday.
"Not sure if some European player (had an) opportunity to play his first game (so) close to (home), just 40 minutes. For me, it was something special. Really happy with my first game that I could have family and friends there. 100 percent is going to be a game I’ll remember for the rest of my life."
For his debut in Prague — on October 4 of 2019 — Dominik played 13:59 and finished with three shots on goal, including one quality chance in the first period that Flyers goalie Carter Hart wound up saving with his glove.
The Hawks lost their opener 4-3 to the Flyers, but Kubalik was on his way towards a sensational rookie season.
After surpassing the self-expectations he had for 2019-20, Kubalik is looking to be even better for the Hawks in his sophomore season next year.
"Well, obviously I didn’t expect this season," said Dominik, who became the first player to record five points in his postseason debut in NHL history on Aug. 1 in Chicago's first 2020 postseason contest in the qualifying round against Edmonton. "The first goal was to make the team, that happened, second goal was to play the first game in Prague. When the year went on, when you start feeling more and more confident, reaching your goals, you still want more and more.
"So I think that’s normal and that’s what I want right now for the next year. I want to get better, I need to get better, that’s for sure. I hope I will be better. All I can say is I’ll do anything for that. I don’t want to put pressure on myself on what I expect for next season. I’ll just be ready and I’m excited about it."
Kubalik is a pending restricted free agent and said he's confident he's going to stay in Chicago but will be speaking with his agent more on the matter soon.