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Far from Czech home, Kubalik adjusts to life with Blackhawks

Blackhawks-Camp Hockey

FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2018, file photo, Czech Republic’ Dominik Kubalik (18) checks Russia’s Nikita Nesterov (89) during the second period of the semifinal round of the men’s hockey game at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea. Kubalik is one of the biggest variables for the Chicago Blackhawks as they try to get back to the playoffs after a two-year absence. He could play on one of Chicago’s top lines, but he isn’t looking too far ahead early in training camp. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)


CHICAGO -- Dominik Kubalik is leaning on David Kampf while he transitions to life in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks. He peppers his Czech countryman with all sorts of questions.

''I think he’s a little bit mad at me right now,’' a grinning Kubalik said, ''because I’m still asking ‘What’s that?’ and ‘Where are we going?’ and ‘Where’s the training room?’ Stuff like that.’'

The Blackhawks have their own questions about Kubalik, one of the biggest variables in their pursuit of the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2017.

It sure looks as if Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane might play together on Chicago’s top line, and close friends and former juniors teammates Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat are a good bet for the second line. Kubalik is in the mix to play alongside one of those potent duos.

It would be quite an opportunity to walk into as a 24-year-old rookie, but Kubalik isn’t looking ahead.

''Everything is pretty new,’' he said. ''I’m just trying to get used to it as quick as possible. But I feel great.’'

Kubalik skated with Strome for at least part of Saturday’s session on the second day of training camp. Strome played against Kubalik at the world championships and saw him in the Ontario Hockey League a few years ago.

''He’s got a real hard shot, fast skater, some good hands,’' Strome said. ''So I think he’s going to add a different element to our team. He’s got a great one-timer. He knows where to go and knows how to find open ice. Big body, too, so it’s a lot of good attributes to have in a player.’'

Coach Jeremy Colliton said Kubalik has been ''as advertised’’ so far.

''It’s going to be somewhat of an adjustment for him,’' Colliton said. ''He has played over here in North America before, so that’s good. But it’s still going to take some practices and games.’'

Kubalik was drafted by Los Angeles in the seventh round in 2013. But the 6-foot-2 winger never played for the Kings, who shipped him to Chicago for a fifth-round pick in January.

He had spent most of his career in the Czech Republic before playing for HC Ambri-Piotta in Switzerland for part of the 2017-18 season and again last year.

Kubalik had 25 goals and 32 assists in 50 games for the Swiss club last season, and then had a goal and five assists in five playoff games. He also had six goals and six assists in 10 games at the worlds.

The move to Ambri-Piotta was a key moment for Kubalik in his journey to the NHL.

''I was still thinking that I just need to make another step in my career,’' he said. ''So I decided to, if there was a chance to go to Switzerland, felt pretty good about it. So I tried it and it actually worked pretty well.’'

Kubalik plans to stick to his strengths in his transition to the NHL.

''I think I’m playing pretty simple,’' he said. ''I don’t want to handle the puck for a while. I want to just put it as quick as possible to the net. If there is a chance to shoot, I’m just going to take it.’'

While Kubalik is learning his way around Chicago, there was at least one familiar face in the locker room when he joined the Blackhawks. He played with Kampf on a U-20 team in the Czech Republic a couple years ago.

He also could make his NHL debut in his home country when Chicago begins the season in Prague on Oct. 4 against Philadelphia.

''I don’t really want to think about it. It’s still pretty far away,’' he said. ''But obviously I know it would be probably amazing.’'