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Dominik Kubalik found new ways to make an impact in 2021

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Without Jonathan Toews, Kubalik had to find new ways to produce in 2021 — and he did.

Nashville Predators v Chicago Blackhawks
Dominik Kubalik of the Chicago Blackhawks advances the puck against the Nashville Predators at the United Center
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It took Dominik Kubalik a little while to get going this season.

He only scored three goals in his first 16 games yet, in that same stretch, Kubalik had 12 points. It’s hard to be upset about a lack of goal-scoring when the player is finding other ways to contribute (see Alex DeBrincat’s postseason performance in 2020).

Kubalik was hampered this season in the goal-scoring department by a shooting percentage that was cut roughly in half: dropping from 19.1 percent last season to 10.9 in 2021. Kubalik had a higher shooting rate this season, moving from 9.64 shots per 60 to 10.77, but his quality of shots went down from 1.07 expected goals per 60 to 0.91.

He also suffered from the loss of his most common linemates from the prior season, with Brandon Saad traded to Colorado and Jonathan Toews not playing a game. Toews factored in on 12 of Kubalik’s 30 goals and half of his 16 assists in ‘19-20. Saad was in on another four of Kubalik’s goals.

In fact, most of the players who helped Kubalik score 30 goals in ‘19-20 weren’t around much this season. Toews and Saad were two of the four players who assisted on 24 of Kubalik’s goals and scored on 12 of the 16 goals Kubalik assisted. Dach was the third, and he played just 18 games this season. The other, Patrick Kane, played just 168 minutes with Kubalik in 2021 (Kubalik played 700 minutes without Kane) across all strengths.

Yet Kubalik found different ways to contribute to the Blackhawks this season.

While his goal-scoring ability took a step back, his assists went up, so that his points-per-game pace was identical in 2021 as it was in 2019-20 (0.68). Kubalik was a major difference-maker on the power play, to the tune of 1.1 expected goals above replacement and 1.2 real GAR.

There’s also this:

These heat maps explain where shots are generated with a player on and off the ice. The orange is where more come from and the blue is where fewer come from, as compared to the league average. Chicago’s power play was significantly more effective with Kubalik on it.

Of Kubalik’s 38 points this season, 14 came on the power play, including 10 of his 21 assists. Kubalik improved on his performance from 2019-20, when he had just eight points on the power play and zero xGAR.

Kubalik became a more frequent contributor as well, as his individual points percentage — or the percentage of goals scored while Kubalik was on the ice that Kubalik contributed to — went from 71.88 to 76 (On the power play that number increased to 77.78, second-best among Blackhawks with more than 15 minutes).

On the negative side, Kubalik wasn’t the same defensively as last season, when he was one of the better two-way forwards for the Blackhawks (with 0.6 defensive xGAR), yet he kept up his possession-driving ability and quality generation. Three of the Blackhawks’ five best forward lines (with 30 minutes or more) involved Kubalik, according to MoneyPuck.

Kubalik was fifth on the Blackhawks (20 or more games played) in xGF% and first with a 48.7 high-danger chance percentage. Kubalik continues to move the puck well, especially compared to the team he plays for and the system he plays in. While all of his stats went down from 2019-20 to 2021, Kubalik did the best he could to make up for losing two great puck-moving linemates in the offseason.

Kubalik was better on the puck in 2021, giving the puck up less while continuing his pattern of drawing as many penalties as he takes (nine in 2021). For someone who excels on the power play, having the ability to draw penalties (Kubalik drew the sixth-most on the Blackhawks roster) is important and it’s a skill Kubalik improved upon in 2021.

Let’s just hope that if Toews is back in the 2021-22 season, Jeremy Colliton is smart enough to put Kubalik back where he belongs, right alongside the captain. The Blackhawks could likely see Kubalik elevate his game once more with a more consistent line.