The Toronto Maple Leafs have continued their bargain-bin shopping spree, this time signing high-upside right winger Ondrej Kase to a one-year, $1.25 million contract.
The potential has always been obvious with Kase – he has recorded 97 points in 207 career games, including a 20-goal season and another season right after where he was on pace for 20+ goals again. The 25-year-old Czech is fast and capable of beating goalies cleanly from distance with his shot, not to mention he’ll actually go to the net and cash-in from there as well. Kase is a high-volume shooter who has averaged 2.25 shots per game in his career and saw extended time alongside Ryan Getzlaf (because he is good).
In fact, he was good enough that the Bruins, in part, traded a first-round pick to acquire him (though, in fairness, some of that was due to taking on David Backes’ deal). It was a trade that was widely celebrated at the time as Kase had been an analytics darling for years.
We projected Kase to sign for $795k x 1yr. He had been a very productive forward until he ran into injury problems. A little bit of an overpayment, but, if he can stay healthy, he has the potential to be a very solid depth player for the Leafs. https://t.co/erKJ8LYvnG pic.twitter.com/3YcrTOmmT4
— Evolving-Hockey (@EvolvingHockey) July 31, 2021
Why, then was Kase unqualified, and why are we talking about most of his stats as projections instead of raw numbers? He hasn’t been able to stay healthy, to put it midly. In five NHL seasons, he hasn’t come particularly close to playing a full campaign – the closest being his 66 games played in 2017-18, the one season where he hit 20 goals.
Through four years with Anaheim, Kase has missed over a full season worth of games. In 2018-19 alone, he missed 52 games, first suffering a concussion that pushed his debut into November and then a torn shoulder labrum that ended his campaign in January. He followed that season up with missed time due to a bruised jaw before sitting out until early February due to a head injury.
In Kase’s one full season in Boston, he suffered an upper-body injury in the second game of the season against the Devils after taking accidental contact to the face from Devils forward Miles Wood. He missed the next 52 games. It was never confirmed, but the injury was a suspected concussion, of which there are at least five — that we are aware of — Kase has suffered in his career.
Ultimately, it’s a low-risk signing in terms of the price tag. Kase is legitimately good enough that if he were actually able to stay healthy and play most of the season, he would be capable of playing alongside an Auston Matthews or John Tavares to the point where the Leafs could push down a Mitch Marner or William Nylander and spread out their attack to build some really good depth throughout their lineup.
Kase is legitimately that good. This marks the second 25-year-old winger with big question marks (albeit much different ones) but legitimate potential that the Leafs have signed (the first is Michael Bunting, who is about one month older than Kase). These are decent bets to make, and for a team strapped for cash, it is a reasonable approach to free agency given how many players around the league have been overpaid this week.
The questions are simple, though: Can Kase stay healthy, and if he can, can he regain his old form? He is young enough to suggest it’s possible, but his track record makes it hard to bet on. Between Kase and Bunting, you’d like to think at least one of them will pan out.
If they both do, it would create the type of depth that would make life easier on the Leafs stars, their coaching staff, and the team as a whole. If they don’t, Dubas will likely have to be aggressive at the trade deadline.
Ondrej Kase Scouting Report
via McKeens Yearbook
Lanky, mid-size winger is intelligent and skilled, a playmaker, set to a frenetic tempo .. vibrant skater .. sharp startup and excellent cruising speed .. funny running motion on crossovers .. agile and balanced.. talented puck handler and puck carrier .. spirited game, aggressive in puck pursuits .. plagued by chronic injury concerns.