The following article is part of a continuing series this season, where MayorsManor correspondent David Hofreiter provides commentary on prospects playing in the Canadian-based major junior leagues and US-based college hockey programs. He’ll spend time tracking a player, then offer some opinions and observations based on a single game or multiple games, depending on the points being presented.
When watching children practice a sport in the backyard it’s not uncommon for them to create a scenario in which they perform some last minute heroics to win the game. A few weeks back, LA Kings draft pick Dominik Kubalik brought such an image to real life.
Selected in the seventh round, 191st overall at the 2013 NHL Draft, Kubalik is a left-handed right wing import from the Czech Republic. He had some visa issues, which prevented him from attending Development Camp back in July, but was able to attend Rookie Camp with the big club last month. Eventually, he was part of a group of players returned to their junior teams. Now back with the Sudbury Wolves, that’s where the real fun got underway.
With their season just getting started, Sudbury stumbled a bit out of the gate. Their first game, against Sault Ste. Marie, was postponed due to fog. Things didn’t get much better the following day, where they dropped a game 10-3 to the Soo. The next game, described here, found them facing off with the division leading Barrie Colts – who had scored 14 goals in their first two games.
Kubalik played on the second line at even strength, second unit on the power play and saw limited use on the penalty kill (more or less, he only went out during the waning seconds of the penalty kill – no priority time there).
Overall, he played a very skilled, albeit perimeter game. When on the powerplay, he kept himself posted on the half wall. Generally, Kubalik alternated between shooting the puck and passing it to another teammate; no matter what he did with it while on the powerplay, he back tracked along the half boards. In his defense, I don’t know if this is by design of his coaching staff, but it was a theme throughout the day. At even strength, he kept himself in the high slot or along the boards.
Defensively, the young forward was very industrious. He was always deep in his defensive zone when the team was in trouble; working as far back as behind the goal line when his defense needed help. His head appeared to be on a swivel, set on tracking the opposition. Further, he assisted on the breakout and started the attack multiple times. When reading the play, Kubalik had very good reads and knew when to be somewhere, even settin himself up where he was the only player back to prevent a breakaway. On the flip side, he was also turned inside-out by the opposing player during one sequence.
While he didn’t shy away from rubbing a player out on the boards, he wasn’t a hitter in the slightest. Instead, he routinely used inside positioning to separate a player from the puck. His skating was very good amongst his peers, both in north-and-south and lateral movements. Additionally, his passes were accurate and, more importantly, decisive.
Such decisiveness was key in opening the scoring for Sudbury. Despite being outshot 10-4 in the opening period, Sudbury got on the board first. Kubalik one-touched a pass from the neutral zone between his opponent’s skates and onto the stick of a teammate, where the ensuing attack resulted in a goal. His reads were in full force during the third period, where he took control of a bouncing puck off the boards and caught the Colts going the wrong way; resulting in a 2-on-1, with him passing the puck once the defender was too close to him, allowing his teammate plenty of time to shoot and score. Though this tied the game 2-2, the Colts regained the lead less than a minute later.
Hanging out in the high slot proved to pay off later in the period, as Kubalik tipped a shot from the point that went into the net. In his jubilation, he did a Yakupov-lite slide towards his teammate at the blueline. But, the excitement didn’t end there. With under a minute to go in regulation, Kubalik tracked a loose rebound in front of the net, and slid on one knee while taking a backhanded whack at the puck. In the blink of an eye, the shot beat the goalie, giving Sudbury a 4-3 lead with under a minute to play. They went on to win 5-3. Kubalik ended the night with two goals, two assists, a plus-4 rating and zero penalty minutes.
It may have only been the second game of the season, yet Kubalik provided that last minute heroic moment that athletes always dream of achieving. While he did play on the outside a lot, his brilliant reads and solid skills made up for his shortcomings in style.
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