Blackhawks notebook: Dominik Kubalik’s disappointing season not ending on a high note

GLENDALE, Ariz. –Dominik Kubalik had been a healthy scratch before, particularly during his rookie NHL season, although he certainly wasn’t accustomed to it.

But a healthy scratch three games in a row? That was something he’d never endured.

“It’s a new experience,” he said Monday. “You’re trying to take it the best you can: get some extra work on the ice, be in the gym a little bit, refresh my mind, keep my head a little loose. And when you get a chance to go back, just be ready for it.”

After surprisingly staying with the Blackhawks through the trade deadline, Kubalik hoped he’d be able to at least finish his incredibly disappointing 2021-22 season on a high note.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it has panned out. Kubalik has fluctuated in and out of the Hawks’ lineup more than ever this April, including that stretch of three straight games –against the Stars, Kings and Sharks — on the outside looking in.

Asked if he believes the time he spent as a scratch, watching the games from high up in the press box, could help him — something often mentioned by players in his situation –Kubalik’s answer tellingly reflected just how much of a beating his morale has taken this year.

“Obviously you can learn from it,” he said. “When you’re on the ice, you have a second to make a decision. When you’re playing with confidence, you usually make good decisions. When you’re not, you’re trying to force plays, maybe try to make something happen, but you shouldn’t do that. Yeah, sometimes it’s nice to watch it [from above], but obviously on the ice, it’s different.”

He did score in his return to the lineup Saturday against the Predators, and he actually enters Wednesday with a respectable seven points in his last 10 games. But his reputation as a down-on-his-luck scorer looks like it’ll follow him into restricted free agency this summer, and it currently seems unlikely the Hawks will re-sign him.

“He’s an NHL [player],” interim coach Derek King said. “He’s good enough to play in the NHL. He’s just having one of those years, [and] it just happened to be bad timing.

“I’m not sure what his deal’s going to be — if he’s back, or if he’s going to go somewhere else. But he’ll eventually get out of it and he’ll put some numbers up. He’ll score some goals.”

Defensive rotation

King has established a steady rotation of defensemen lately with Riley Stillman, Erik Gustafsson, Caleb Jones and Calvin de Haan taking turns playing and sitting out.

On Wednesday against the Coyotes –the Hawks’ final trip to Gila River Arena before the Coyotes move to Arizona State’s new but tiny (5,000-seat) arena next season — the former two dressed and the latter two sat.

Gustafsson’s repeated returns to the lineup have frustrated some fans, who understandably see no reason to continue playing the struggling veteran on an expiring contract. But King explained Wednesday he wants to be respectful to everyone until the final day.

“He’s part of the team,” King said. “And maybe he can give us a power play quarterback –he brings something different. It’s not based on play, it’s just the human element of it. These guys are here. They’re been a part of the team all year. I’m not just goingto go, ‘You know what, you’re not playing the last 10 games because I need to play [somebody else].”

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