PRAGUE - The words coming out of Dominik Kubalik's agent's mouth didn't quite compute.
Yes, Kubalik understood the Kings had traded his rights to the Blackhawks. He was leading the Swiss League in scoring for Ambri-Piotta, and it made sense there was interest.
Kubalik's agent told him a call would soon be coming from Hawks general manager Stan Bowman to welcome him to the organization. That wasn't a shock, it's fairly standard to hear from a team official when a trade is made.
There was one more thing his agent needed to share.
"The first game is probably going to be in Prague," he said.
Kubalik, a Czech Republic native who grew up an hour from Prague in the town of Pilsen, didn't believe him.
"I'm like right, yeah," he said. "You think I'm stupid?"
Stupid? No. The most fortunate rookie in NHL history? Perhaps.
Eight months after that conversation, Kubalik is walking along the famous Charles Bridge in Prague still somewhat in disbelief that he's just a few hours away from making his NHL debut with the Hawks. Kubalik's work ethic, speed and deadly shot had secured him a roster spot weeks ago, but he isn't prepared to talk about the inevitable.
"Right now I don't think about the game tomorrow because it's still one day (away)," he says. "I know I'm on the roster. I know I'm going to probably play. But the best feeling will be when I'm on the ice. My family will be there. All the friends. That will be the moment I'm looking for."
Rain is falling in Prague, a common occurrence since the Hawks arrived, so Kubalik is starting to pick up his pace along the cobblestone streets. He takes a moment to notice a sign on a local pub advertising the city's most popular beer for 44.90 koruna, which comes out to about two dollars.
"For a Czech guy that's actually pretty expensive," he says. "Because in my hometown there's a beer for one buck. Prague is more expensive."
Bowman has been a big supporter of Kubalik, even saying last April he expected him to be on the roster in the fall.
"I look back at his progression the last couple of years, especially last season, he was a dominant player," Bowman said. "You're not always sure how it's going to transfer over to the NHL, but ever since he started camp, he's looked very comfortable.
"He's brought a couple of different elements to our team, certainly his speed and his shot are the two things you notice the most when you see him, but he's been a pretty reliable player too."
A superstitious one as well. Kubalik is so superstitious he's not willing to share any of the things he does before games.
"I can't say that," Kubalik says. "It's private and it would probably lose the magic thing about it. Probably won't work after that."
Kubalik has provided tips about where to eat and what to do when teammates have asked, but as a 23-year-old rookie he hasn't quite adopted a take-charge mentality. It was just a few months ago at Hawks development camp that he was nervous to say hello to Jonathan Toews.
It's not like he had never met an NHL player before. His brother, Tomas, was a fifth-round pick of the Blue Jackets in 2008 and played 12 games for them from 2010-12.
"He helped me through my career probably the most," Kubalik says. "He was always kind of like my mentor. He was an older brother, the younger brother always wants to be like bigger brother. That's what I did. He had a couple tough situations in his career, and I was always tried to help him and take something from that. Learn from it. For example, he got injured and came back really quick and got injured again.
"He's a warrior. He's had six or seven surgeries and he's still coming back. Some people are asking me, 'Why is he still playing?' Because he just loves it. He just loves hockey."
The trip has not been all fun and games. Kubalik also has had to attend to some important personal business. Earlier in the week, Kubalik had to return to Pilsen to obtain travel documents for a special someone who didn't accompany him to Chicago for the start of training camp.
His name is Rocky. He's a Chihuahua.
"He's the toughest Chihuahua in Pilsen," Kubalik boasts.
The steady rain and chill in the Pilsen air sends Kubalik back to his hotel to prepare for practice later that afternoon. The long trip is growing to a close, the NHL debut in his native country growing nearer.
"I know I probably will play, but still one day to go," he says.
He then adds through a knowing smile:
"It's going to be the best feeling on the ice."
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