Ondrej Kase hasn’t played a game since Jan. 16, when he suffered an upper-body injury against the New Jersey Devils. It may be an even longer period of time before we see him suit up for the Boston Bruins again. But, although Kase’s place on this roster currently seems like an afterthought after the upgrades the Bruins made at the trade deadline, there still might be an opening for him that would make a lot of sense for both parties.
It’s likely that he will not return to his old place on David Krejci’s right-wing; with the addition of Taylor Hall, the top-six is more stable now than it has been in years, and Craig Smith has become an excellent fit on the second line. The question that remains for the Bruins is what their finalized bottom-six will look like. Jake DeBrusk, Charlie Coyle, Nick Ritchie, and Curtis Lazar are surely locks for roster spots, but there is still some uncertainty about which players will maximize each position on the third and fourth lines. If healthy, Kase could find a role there.
Coyle’s Game Needs a Spark
Charlie Coyle made a lasting impression in his first season-and-a-half as the Bruins’ third-line center, most notably when he helped lead the team to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final in his homecoming season. Not long after, general manager Don Sweeney inked him to a six-year contract extension worth $31,500,000. However, the results this season haven’t gone as hoped: Coyle has 15 points through 44 games so far, putting him on pace for just 19 in total. In contrast with previous years, he’s one of the less visible players on the ice for Boston.
The Bruins will need a player like Coyle to step up if they want to make another push for the Cup. This may require some adjustments on the third line. The current situation with Coyle and his linemates is adequate, but not ideal; Ritchie and DeBrusk are both natural left-wingers, which has forced DeBrusk to play on his off-wing.
This is where Ondrej Kase could improve the lineup. As a right-winger, his presence on Coyle’s line would allow for players in the bottom-six to move to more ideal positions. Either one of Ritchie or DeBrusk would move down to the fourth-line left wing, while the other would stay on the third line with Coyle.
Though this adjustment is subtle, it could bring new life into Coyle’s game, as well as improve other aspects of the third and fourth lines. Coyle will have either Ritchie or DeBrusk on his left and Kase on his right, who, despite their different struggles in the past, each still have the potential to maximize their game and let the pieces fall into place to get Coyle going.
Kase’s Playmaking Ability Should Not Be Forgotten
Three seasons ago, Ondrej Kase recorded a career-high 38 points in 66 games for the Anaheim Ducks. In the past two seasons, he has earned 20 points and 24 points respectively, including a hat trick in the former. While these aren’t groundbreaking numbers, they demonstrate a level of potential in the 25-year-old forward that is more than suitable for a third-line player.
When Kase is on top of his game, many of his goals come from tenacious forechecking and his ability to find shooting lanes in the slot. These skills, especially in collaboration with the added benefit of playing with well-fitting linemates, should not be underestimated. It also helps that he tends to perform well in advanced statistics, which indicates the possibility that despite his scoring regression in past years, he could return to his old playmaking self with better luck.
It may be that the Bruins asked too much of Kase when they placed him on the second line’s right-wing in 2020. He has been a third-liner for the majority of his NHL career, and that is where most of his success has come from. Allowing him to return to this position will give him an opportunity to play with confidence and excel in a more comfortable role.
Health Will Be the Deciding Factor
Kase’s injury history will undoubtedly pose a significant challenge if he does return this season. There is a risk that he won’t be up-to-speed with the ultra-competitive nature of this division after missing most of their games, particularly as seeding implications for the playoffs take front stage. Another concern is that he may not be able to stay healthy, which would force head coach Bruce Cassidy to make lineup adjustments on the fly. Looking at the remainder of this season alone, Kase’s chances to play grow slimmer with each passing week.
Bruce Cassidy on if Ondrej Kase could return this season: pic.twitter.com/tBIOCTvsQK— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) April 22, 2021
The Bruins can’t count on Kase returning to the lineup – they need to have other options in the event that he doesn’t play. However, a recovered Kase can improve this forward group in ways that shouldn’t be overlooked. His spot in the lineup is there for the taking; right now, he and the Bruins will simply have to wait and see if he can get back to full health in time.