There are a lot of young Anaheim Ducks players and prospects generating buzz this summer. Between Trevor Zegras, Sam Steel, Troy Terry, Max Jones, Isac Lundestrom and Max Comtois, fans hope an infusion of young talent will quickly turn the team’s fortunes (except Zegras who has committed to Boston University). There’s one player, who’s almost certain to be on the Ducks’ opening-day roster — barring another injury — who could have a massive impact on the team this season. That player is Ondrej Kase, and if he avoids the injury problems that have plagued his early career, there’s a strong chance that he could be the team’s X-factor this season.
Kase Has Been an Offensive Force When He’s Played
After breaking out in 2017-18, hopes were high for Kase. His 20 goals that season were good for second on the Ducks in scoring. He added 18 assists for 38 points overall, which was fifth-best overall on the team. All of that came when Kase was only 21 years old and in only 66 games.
Last season, he scored 11 goals and nine assists in an injury-shortened 30-game season.
It is clear, even with a relatively small sample size, that Kase is a talented scorer. However, his underlying fancy stats are even more impressive considering the Ducks offensive futility last season, especially November through January, before Kase was injured.
He led the Ducks in Corsi for percentage (CF%) at 56.8% in 5-on-5 situations among players who played 30 games or more for the team. Kase also led the team in high danger scoring chances for percentage (HDCF%) in 5-on-5 situations among players who played 30 games or more at 57.2%.
Kase’s CF% was almost 10% better than the Ducks team mark of 47.6% in 5-on-5 situations last season. His HDCF% was more than 10% better than the Ducks team number of 44.8% in 5-on-5 situations last season.
The eye test works as well. Over parts of three seasons, Kase has showcased excellent skating ability, offensive awareness, shooting ability and a set of very smooth hands, especially close to the goal, all of which combine to make him an elite finisher.
Just look at this game-winning goal he scored against the Colorado Avalanche in November.
If Kase can avoid injury this season, he could lead the Ducks in scoring, but that’s easier said than done considering his history.
Kase Has Concerning Injury History
For a young player, Kase’s injury history is extensive. Through three years with Anaheim, he’s missed nearly a full season worth of games. Last season 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.
While Kase can recover from his shoulder surgery, the more significant concern is his history of concussions. Since 2015-16, Kase has suffered at least three concussions that we know of. In 2015-16, Kase was concussed in a game while playing for the San Diego Gulls. He landed on injured reserve in October 2017 and again in October 2018 after suffering a concussions, both against the Los Angeles Kings.
Kase is young. He’ll turn 23 just over a month into the 2019-2020 season, but that cuts both ways. He still has a lot of potential, but 23 is also very young to have suffered so many concussions in such a short amount of time. Think about it, Kase has missed significant time due to concussions in three of his first four professional seasons. If he suffers another, it might be enough to jeopardize his career and even worse his long-term health if it hasn’t already.
There are also success stories — at least in the short term when it comes to head injuries — when it comes to players who had concussion problems early in their careers. Big names like Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby each have endured multiple concussions and have continued to play at a high level.
Still, it raises the question, is there something about the way Kase plays that makes him vulnerable or is it a case of a young player adjusting to the physicality of the NHL?
Either way, the best ability is availability. If Kase can’t stay in the lineup, he can’t score which the Ducks desperately need if they’re going to claw their way back into playoff contention after a dreadful 2018-19 season on offense.
Potential Going Forward
There’s no reason to think that if Kase can stay in the lineup, he can’t meet or surpass the 30-goal plateau. Last season, the Ducks didn’t have a single 30-goal scorer. Before that, they only had one each season going back to 2013-14, when Corey Perry scored 43 goals and Ryan Getzlaf scored 31.
For a team that desperately needs offense, a major contribution from Kase this season would be tremendous.
Kase’s value isn’t only in his scoring ability. He can play both the right and left wing which will help head coach Dallas Eakins move him around in the lineup at a wing position that is crowded with young prospects.
There has been one positive side effect of Kase’s injury problems. They’ve kept his contract small and his cap hit low, at $2.6 million. If Kase can maintain the scoring pace he’s showed in the past two seasons over a full 82-game schedule, his $2.6 million contract over the next two seasons will be one of the better bargains in the league.
If Kase can play a full season, the Ducks’ offensive potency will increase dramatically and will help them speed up their rebuild. Kase has shown flashes of brilliance during his first three seasons in the NHL; now it’s time for him to step up when the Ducks need him most.
All statistics from Hockey-Reference and Natural Stat Trick