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Before the pause: Dominik Kubalik was most valuable Blackhawks forward

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The rookie paced Chicago in multiple categories and showed he’s the most indispensable asset for the forward corps.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Winnipeg Jets James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL put its 2019-20 season on pause March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but remains hopeful to award the Stanley Cup at some point in the future. Although it’s unclear if or when it could return, Second City Hockey will recap the season with the best Blackhawks player to date in a season review series.

When you think of the most valuable Blackhawks forward this season, you’re not likely to think of a rookie.

Your mind immediately goes to Patrick Kane, but besides points (84), he doesn’t provide much. Jonathan Toews was close (2.62) to Kane (2.63) in five-on-five points per 60 minutes this season, according to Natural Stat Trick, but he’s also seen a recent downturn in his defensive value.

If you’re analytically-inclined, maybe your mind shifts to Brandon Saad, who is dominant at even strength and on the penalty kill this season. But Saad’s lack of production (21 goals but just 33 points) holds him back.

Instead, it is 24-year-old rookie Dominik Kubalik, who proved himself to be the most indispensable asset for the Blackhawks’ forward corps. Whatever line he played with dominated competition, including the initial line of David Kampf, Saad and Kubalik, as well as when he was put on Toews’ wing on the first line, a combination that could prove fruitful in the future.

Kubalik’s shooting ability, transitional play with the puck and backchecking prowess made him the most important forward for the Blackhawks in a 200-foot game. He had the third-most shots per 60 with 9.64, behind two players who didn’t play shorthanded in Kane (11.05) and Alex DeBrincat (10.14) — Kubalik did play shorthanded. Kubalik also had the second-most expected goals per 60 at 1.07 behind Saad’s 1.08.

Kubalik, who led all NHL rookies with 30 goals, also had the most primary points per 60 among Blackhawks players at five-on-five (2.36) and was second across all strengths (2.45), in part because of his shooting and goals at five-on-five. He scored 26 of his 30 goals during five-on-five play. He also wasn’t the beneficiary of many secondary assists as 10 of his 16 assists were primary. Kubalik also factored in on 71.88 percent of the points scored while he was on ice, the third-best rate behind Kane (84.85) and Alex Nylander (72.22).

Kubalik was also second on the team in both goals above replacement (10.4) and wins above replacement (1.8) to Toews (11.2 and 2) and was first in both expected goals above replacement (14.1) and expected wins above replacement (2.5). That means Kubalik’s play was both the best among the Blackhawks’ skaters and he saw results near that level. In fact, Kubalik’s 14:22 average ice time is perhaps one of the largest signs coach Jeremy Colliton doesn’t know how to maximize his best players’ impact on the ice.

The Blackhawks have been looking for the heir apparent to Marian Hossa since his departure before the 2017-18 season due to a progressive skin disorder. The Artemi Panarin for Saad trade in June 2017 was done in part because Saad was supposed to be that replacement. Saad has been a dominant two-way presence, up and down the ice, but he hasn’t accomplished the same production Hossa was able to in the Blackhawks’ most successful years. Kubalik, however, with that same two-way dominance, showed he can have that production like Hossa.

The Blackhawks should continue to work on re-signing Kubalik.

Data via Evolving-Hockey.com and NaturalStatTrick.com.