A few days later, Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas didn’t stop there as he signed Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie on back-to-back days, who weren’t granted qualifying offers from the Boston Bruins. While it may not seem like much based on their past, Dubas made some great additions by bringing in these players to add some more size and skill that compliment the core of this team. More importantly, it fills out the depth giving them more options throughout the lineup.
The Maple Leafs are already dealing with a tight budget given their salary cap situation, but they continued to make the most of it by finding quality talent to cheap and affordable contracts. Both Kase and Ritchie have qualities that will help provide a strong presence on this team.
If Kase’s Healthy, Things Will Work Out
Dubas made his first move by signing Kase to a one-year deal worth $1.25 million as a free agent. The 25-year-old native of Kadan, Czech Republic only suited up in three games in 2020-21, sustaining a number of concussions during his time with the Bruins.
There was a lot of promise with Kase after he had a good showing in his rookie season, tallying 15 points in 53 games with the Anaheim Ducks. He had a career best in goals (20), assists (18) and points (38) in 66 games the following season, potentially becoming a mainstay in the team’s top-six. Since then, his production declined and the Bruins later acquired him in 2020 in exchange for David Backes.
While this might be a risky signing given his injury history as it’s always a concern, it’s definitely worth taking a shot given the upside the Kase has. He has strong underlying numbers both in driving offense and being an impact player defensively as this chart from JFreshHockey shows.
While it’s a very small sample this season at five-on-five, Kase had a Corsi For percentage of 60.38%, an expected goals percentage of 63.39% and a scoring chances for percentage of 65.38%. Those are impressive numbers as he’s been a very strong possession player over his career with a 55.8 CF%. When healthy, Kase is a very reliable, two-way scoring threat. A natural right-winger, it’s more likely that he’ll see time on the third line behind Mitch Marner and William Nylander who occupy the first and second line role. But his size (six-feet, 190 pound) and smooth skating stride is going to be a huge boost in the Maple Leafs middle-six given his upside.
He still hasn’t reached his full potential. If he’s able to stay healthy, while continuing to be an effective player on both sides of the puck, then this signing is going to pay dividends for the Maple Leafs. This could even lead to an extension if the Maple Leafs are happy with the results.
Ritchie Brings Depth Throughout Lineup
It’s always great to see a player sign with the hometown team. Like Kase, Ritchie didn’t receive a qualifying offer from the Bruins so the Maple Leafs gave him a two-year, $5 million contract, worth $2.5 million a season.
In six seasons with both the Ducks and Bruins, Ritchie has tallied 59 goals and 137 points in 350 games. He had a career best 31 points with the Ducks in 2018-19 and just surpassed his career best in goals with 15 this season with the Bruins.
Seeing third line minutes with the Bruins, Ritchie averaged 15:22 per game and surpassed expectations with the organization. The Maple Leafs revolve around being a fast and skilled team. However, power forwards like Nick Foligno and Zach Hyman are gone, they need to fill those pieces that the team lacks. Ritchie checks off the boxes the team is looking for, as they need size, toughness and provide some steady secondary scoring at even strength and on the power play.
While he doesn’t possess any high-end qualities that make him a top-six forward, he is one of many options that are auditioning to replace Hyman’s void. His underlying numbers don’t jump off the page, but he does provide average numbers as he continues to get better every season. With the Bruins this season, Ritchie had a 60.6 CF% when he was on the ice at five-on-five.
He has the ability to establish a strong forecheck and is able to provide support for players like Auston Matthews or Marner. He has great strength and gives the line a needed boost of energy to be a good replacement for Hyman. Putting him in that spot is a bit risky considering he’s more of a third line player. Even though he plays a physical “in your face” style, he does have an offensive skillset and net front presence where he could break out with the right players. He could very well be in that spot or even on the second line, unless the Maple Leafs bring in a legitimate top-six forward.
He’s a player where you can insert him anywhere in the lineup and he’ll be impactful. He’s coming to help push this team forward and get over their playoff struggles. If he’s able to meet expectations then this signing was well worth the risk, especially with the current price.
Low Risk, High Upside
Signing both Kase and Ritchie are moves that the Maple Leafs like to make, finding players with upside and bringing them in at a cheap, short-term price. They’re the kind of moves at that low price, you’re banking on them to succeed without any pressure and play their game.
Both players have great two-way abilities and really great upside that balances out with the main offensive players. Where they’ll end up in the lineup is still up for debate, but they’re still strong depth pieces that can play anywhere in the lineup. That is a big bonus for the Maple Leafs. Dubas wanted to shore up the team’s depth and he did just that.
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.