Then it was about making an impact on the scoresheet. He did that, scoring his first career NHL goal in just his second game.
Now the goal has shifted to solidifying a spot in the top-six. It took him a while, but he's done that and there isn't a hotter rookie in the NHL right now than Kubalik.
After extending his goal streak to four games by scoring twice in Saturday's 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks, Kubalik pulled into a tie with Buffalo Sabres forward Victor Olofsson for first among all rookies with 16 goals this season. Fourteen of those goals have come at even-strength, which is double the amount of the three rookies (Ilya Mikheyev, Martin Necas, and Olofsson) who are tied for second.
While it will be difficult to leapfrog Vancouver's Quinn Hughes and Colorado's Cale Maker in the Calder Trophy discussion, Kubalik will play his way into the finalist conversation if he continues to produce at this rate.
"I think so," Kubalik said when asked whether he's playing his best hockey of the season. "Especially after the first two games when I scored, the confidence going high. Obviously you're trying to do more and more and especially the confidence, you're able to make it. I'm really enjoying the time right now."
Kubalik was incredibly close to putting a stamp on Saturday's win with his first career NHL hat trick. He had two opportunities to score an empty-netter and was inches away on his first attempt. The second one got blocked after his nerves kicked in.
"I was shaking," Kubalik said smiling. "Nervous. Whatever. Then when I missed the first one I was looking to pass that one because my confidence was gone. I didn't believe in myself."
Kubalik may have lost his confidence at that moment, but his confidence overall is at an all-time high. He's been one of the most productive Blackhawks lately, scoring eight goals and five assists for 13 points over his last 11 games.
"Very happy with Kubalik's progression," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Does a lot of things away from the puck that allows him to be put in a situation to score. He's going to the net, he's being a shooter and it's great to see."
Only five other players in franchise history have scored 30 or more goals in their rookie season: Artemi Panarin (30), Eric Daze (31), Jeremy Roenick (35), Darryl Sutter (42) and Steve Larmer (43). Kubalik is on pace for 29 and he was a healthy scratch for two games.
For reference, Elias Pettersson won the Calder Trophy last season by leading all rookies with 28 goals. Kubalik's emergence isn't something to gloss over.
"My first goal was to make the team," Kubalik said. "I was saying to myself, we're going to start there, and we'll see what happens. Now it's like ... I just can't believe it, it's great."
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