With the Toronto Maple Leafs addressing their team’s depth in the offseason, they needed to find quality players at a price that they can afford. While they signed players like Michael Bunting and David Kampf, there’s another offseason signing that’s making a significant impact with Ondrej Kase.
The Maple Leafs swooped in and signed Kase to a one-year, $1.25 million contract, after the Bruins didn’t tender him an offer. There was a lot of promise for Kase early on in his career as he was a strong two-way goal scorer, but he’s been derailed by injuries over the last few seasons. Since signing with the Maple Leafs, it appears as if his career is back on track as his play that is definitely benefiting the team early on.
Kase’s Health was an X-Factor
The biggest question mark with the Kase signing wasn’t his skillset or overall impact, but his ability to stay healthy. He played in only three games with the Boston Bruins last season, nine in total since being acquired in 2019-20 and is now approaching 20 games with the Maple Leafs. He’s dealt with a long list of injuries over his career. The most he’s played was back in his sophomore season with the Anaheim Ducks where he played in 66 games. Since then, he has yet to hit the 60-game mark.
Over his career, Kase has missed significant time, mostly due to a number of concussions. He missed 18 games in 2018-19 with one and then missed 52 games last season after he suffered another one in his second game of the season. It’s always tough to see a player go through that, especially early on in their career. He’s one that many teams covet in today’s game with his speed and puck possession style of play.
Kase’s extremely aggressive when he’s on the ice, which may have been a reason why he has suffered the injuries that he has in the past. Even this season, we’ve seen times where he may have lost an edge and goes into the boards, but gets up like nothing happened.
Even with his history, this was a low risk signing from the beginning as we didn’t know how things would unfold and it was at a cheap price. If Kase were to stay healthy, it would be a signing that would benefit the Maple Leafs. So far, so good. After already playing in 18 contests this season, he could be on the path to possibly playing a full 82 games as he’s yet to miss one. We’re starting to see the early gains as the team is successful from his aggressive, two-way style of play early on.
Even after blocking a shot late in their win against the Nashville Predators and his status against the New York Rangers was up in the air, he’s maintained his durability up to this point. If things continue to progress, a new contract could definitely be in Kase’s future. The Maple Leafs have his rights as he’s a restricted free agent, but is arbitration eligible. You can rest assured that they will do everything to keep him on the roster.
Offense and Impact is Starting to Show
While it may take a while for some players to be comfortable with a new team, it’s been the exact opposite with Kase. While the production has been slow, it’s starting to roll in for him as he recently had a three-game goal streak and a four-game point streak.
While it may not seem like much as he has four goals this season, he is currently on-pace for 2o goals, which would match his goal totals from 2017-18. His 30-point pace would also be the second highest in his career, where he had 38 that same season. For that kind of production in a third-line energy role averaging 13:00 per game, it’s everything that the Maple Leafs would want from a player in a depth role.
It took some time for the offense to kick in, his impact in generating offense was always there. He owns a reasonable Corsi For percentage at five-on-five with 50.78 and a shots for percentage of 52.75 (sixth on the team).
He always has the mentality where he doesn’t quit when he’s on the ice. He continuously wants to make an impact and be a difference maker. He has the speed, the strength and determination that players in this role have lacked for some time. Now, the Maple Leafs are getting their value from a player that can give them momentum when they need it. This is the play that made him successful early in his career and now, he appears to back right where he wants to be.
Chemistry with Kampf Has Been Critical
Kampf and Kase are very familiar with each other. They were on Czech Republic’s U18 team in 2012-13, were teammates in back-to-back World Junior Championships in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and both have been on Pirati Chomutov since their U16 days. That friendship and long history they had together has translated to early season success with the Maple Leafs.
The two together along with Pierre Engvall have been kept in tack all season and they have been players that head coach Sheldon Keefe have relied on early in the season, especially in the defensive zone. Both Kampf (87.1%) and Kase (85.2%) lead the team in defensive zone starts at even strength. Keefe states that he was confident about the two playing together and now they’ve formed one of the Maple Leafs reliable lines.
“I just like that I can trust that group to play in defensive-zone situations,” Keefe said according to Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan. “They take a ton of defensive faceoffs. It’s challenging role mentally, but those guys have handled it really well.” (from ‘Kampf, Kase burrowing themselves in Leafs coach’s good books … Game Night Sabres’, The Toronto Sun – 12-11-21).
Despite the heavy defensive responsibilities they face, they’re capable of being offensive threats. They have the ability to shut down and break plays leading them to quickly transition the other way and gain offensive zone time. According to Money Puck, the third line has one of the top expected goals for percentage in the league with 59.8%. The line itself has a CF% of 55.4. With Kampf at five-on-five, Kase has a scoring chances for percentage of 56.13. In addition, both players see about 60% of their shots go through on net. Strong numbers for two key members that are leading the team’s bottom six forward group.
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It’s clear that Keefe will continue to rely on them as the season progresses. From the very beginning of training camp and preseason, the two have been consistent on the third line together. From the first game, you could tell that they had something going.
With Kampf’s strong two-way game and Kase’s speed and ability to establish a forecheck, this offers a glimpse as to how the third line constantly be a reliable two-way presence and tough to play against at both ends of the ice. Their strong play was most notable in the game against the Predators as they both clicked to give the Maple Leafs a 2-0 lead.
Kase was aggressive on the forecheck and managed to gain possession of the puck. He makes a nice spin move to find Kampf in front of the net and he’s able to get it off quickly for the goal. This is just one of many instances where they have that chemistry with each other. An effective third line will go a long way during the regular season and into the playoffs. The Maple Leafs have that with Kase being paired with someone he’s known for some time.
The Maple Leafs made a risky decision to sign Kase. Early on this season, it appears that both the team and the player are reaping the rewards. The Maple Leafs found great value for their roster, while Kase is continuing to elevate his play in a role where he’s regarded offensively and defensively. He’s going to be a very crucial piece for the team going forward.
Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.