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Blackhawks limiting themselves by limiting Dominik Kubalik’s ice time (again)

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A 30-goal scorer from last season is stuck behind two bottom-six forwards.

Chicago Blackhawks v Vegas Golden Knights - Game Two
Robin Lehner of the Vegas Golden Knights comes out to meet Dominik Kubalik of the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period in Game Two of the Western Conference First Round
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

The Blackhawks’ offense has scored just five goals in three games. One way to improve that production could be to properly use one of its two 30-goal scorers from last season.

Through three games, Dominik Kubalik is averaging just 13:32, which just isn’t enough ice time for a 30-goal scorer on a team with limited offensive ability.

Coach Jeremy Colliton said after Sunday’s game that the ice time reports from Florida were incorrect, with Kubalik’s ice time coming in at 13:13 — which did not include any power play time. In the two games before that against the Lightning, which are not in doubt, Kubalik played just 11:30 and 15:53, respectively.

This low ice time comes despite Kubalik having the team having its highest share of shot attempts (61.19%) and shots on goal (59.57%) while Kubalik is on the ice. He’s also second in expected goals percentage at 62.39, trailing only Philipp Kurashev’s 66.33 (all according to Natural Stat Trick).

This lack of ice time is not an isolated incident, though.

When Kubalik started his career in Chicago last season, his playing time was also limited under Colliton, despite scoring a goal in his second career game and two in his first six, showing signs of what was to come. In the first 27 games of last season, when Kubalik was averaging just 12:29 and scored just six goals. In those 27 games he played with the Blackhawks No. 1 center, Jonathan Toews, a grand total of 20:19 at 5-on-5 play.

The last game of that stretch was a Dec. 6 win at home over the Devils, which saw Kubalik play just 9:20. Then, starting with a Dec. 8 game against the Coyotes, Kubalik was moved to the top line with Toews. Here are his numbers from the next three games:

  • Dec. 8 vs. Arizona: 1 goal, 3 shots, 13:02 TOI
  • Dec. 10 at Vegas: 1 goal, 1 shot, 15:24 TOI
  • Dec. 12 at Arizona: 1 assist, 3 shots, 13:50 TOI

Before that three-game stretch, Kubalik had six goals and four assists in 27 games. Over the final 41 games of the season, Kubalik averaged 15:37 of ice time, scoring 24 goals with 12 assists. That Dec. 8 game was the turning point in Kubalik’s season, as he was placed on a top line and given the chance to display his talent — and he did.

Unfortunately, neither of Kubalik’s linemates from last season are currently available to the Blackhawks, with Saad in Colorado and Toews on LTIR.

This doesn’t mean that Kubalik’s play has to suffer, though. He continues to be one of the best play-driving forwards on the Blackhawks’ roster. According to MoneyPuck.com, the line with Kubalik opposite Kurashev and centered by Dylan Strome has the Blackhawks best expected goals share at 75 percent (in a very limited sample size, of course).

Yet this line is not playing like the minutes that a top-two scoring line should be. It was together for just 7:39 on Sunday against Florida and only 4:33 against the Lightning on Friday.

It is still very early in the season. But there is precedent for Kubalik not playing as much as he should under this coach. What’s also concerning is that other players without his level of offensive ability are getting more ice time.

Kubalik is playing less time at 5-on-5 this season than both Lucas Wallmark and Mattias Janmark, who have never come close to the output of Kubalik’s rookie season. Janmark has only eclipsed 30 points once in his career and Wallmark never has. Kubalik just scored 30 goals last year. Perhaps letting Kubalik and his more offensively capable linemates skate more is in the best interest of the team.

Another area where Kubalik is being underutilized is on the power play. Kubalik’s total power play ice time this season is at 2:46, lower than Wallmark’s 3:15. Wallmark has 13 power play points in his entire career. Kubalik had eight in the prior regular season and added four more in nine postseason games.

Again, it’s only three games into the season, but Colliton has already made the mistake of not playing Kubalik enough once before. And it appears that history is repeating itself early this season.