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What does Ondrej Kase bring to the Bruins?

A deep dive into the new Boston Bruin, what he’s good at, and why the Bruins might have gotten him!

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at San Jose Sharks Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re reading this, Ondrej Kase is a Boston Bruin. You likely found out Friday afternoon while scrolling through your Twitter feed, or perhaps by a text from a friend. Either way, some questions probably popped into your head. Is he any good? Who are the Anaheim Ducks?

Personally, I screamed victory from the rooftops. I’ve been a big fan of Ondrej Kase for some time now. However, I still needed to put in some research to really figure out who he is, what he offers, and why the price was so low.

Analytics Profile

For those of you who are avid readers here, you know that I like to ground most of my opinions in the numbers. Although it can’t paint the full picture, I think it offers the best possible “objective” look at a player. Therefore, I feel as though this is a good place to start when looking at a player.

A friend sent me this tweet, and I think this sums things up quite well. He is a well-liked player in the analytics community. When looking at Kase’s regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) over the last three seasons, you can see why.

He is in the top 5 percent in his ability to both create and prevent shots at even strength. He takes a small dip when we take into consideration shot quality, but is still over one standard deviation above average on both sides of the puck. Ignore GF/60 for now as we will take a deeper dive into his shooting talent in a bit.

The Ducks powerplay hasn’t been great, but Kase hasn’t helped it much either. I don’t think there was a spot open for Kase on PP1, but regardless, it’s something to take into consideration.

We can also look at expected goals above replacement, which builds partially off of these models to estimate the value that a player has contributed. Penalties for and against, shooting talent, and shorthanded defense are added to the above chart to get to this final number.

We can derive two things from looking at this over time. For one, Kase hasn’t played much, but when he has, he’s been excellent. The second thing, and most concerning, is that he has fallen off this season.

Now most people reading this article, if they haven’t already given up, aren’t going to be familiar with the process in which these models are made; Ridge regressions and gradient boosting aren’t taught in school. I think this article by the Evolving Wild twins is a great intro to anyone really wanting to take a deep dive into expected goals. However, the combos tool on their site allows us to understand the outputs in a more tangible way.

2019-20 Kase Expected Goals by Teammate

Player Teammate Pos_t TOI_p TOI_t TOI_tog TOI%_w xGF_p/60 xGF_t/60 xGF_tog/60 xGA_p/60 xGA_t/60 xGA_tog/60
Player Teammate Pos_t TOI_p TOI_t TOI_tog TOI%_w xGF_p/60 xGF_t/60 xGF_tog/60 xGA_p/60 xGA_t/60 xGA_tog/60
Ondrej Kase Sam Steel F 679.72 742.67 335.92 49.42 2.5 2.25 2.26 2.55 2.52 2.26
Ondrej Kase Cam Fowler D 679.72 1069.68 255.53 37.59 2.5 2.52 2.44 2.55 2.48 2.54
Ondrej Kase Max Jones F 679.72 642.42 243.92 35.89 2.5 2.19 2.62 2.55 2.52 2.43
Ondrej Kase Hampus Lindholm D 679.72 955.12 216.33 31.83 2.5 2.3 2.31 2.55 2.48 2.3
Ondrej Kase Ryan Getzlaf F 679.72 867.8 205.18 30.19 2.5 2.59 2.79 2.55 2.81 2.7
Ondrej Kase Erik Gudbranson D 679.72 764.65 191.83 28.22 2.5 2.32 2.56 2.55 2.72 2.75
Ondrej Kase Nick Ritchie F 679.72 489.7 169.47 24.93 2.5 2.65 2.38 2.55 2.52 2.53
Ondrej Kase Josh Manson D 679.72 743.47 163.48 24.05 2.5 2.43 2.6 2.55 2.31 1.91
Ondrej Kase Jacob Larsson D 679.72 730.03 162.78 23.95 2.5 2.22 2.51 2.55 2.68 2.89
Ondrej Kase Korbinian Holzer D 679.72 642.17 137.73 20.26 2.5 2.02 2.37 2.55 2.67 2.54
Ondrej Kase Adam Henrique F 679.72 810.25 133.05 19.57 2.5 2.43 2.48 2.55 2.37 2.7
Ondrej Kase Michael Del Zotto D 679.72 616 132.35 19.47 2.5 2.17 2.44 2.55 2.69 2.5
Ondrej Kase Max Comtois F 679.72 328.98 93.62 13.77 2.5 2.22 2.2 2.55 2.72 2.03

At even strength, when Kase has been on the ice this season, the Ducks are expected to score 2.50 goals per hour. Sam Steel, Kase’s most common teammate, has a rate of 2.25. This would, in theory, suggest that Kase has been better at facilitating offense this season. We can run down the list and find that to be true for most players. The differences in this regard haven’t been as strong as in previous seasons, but he has still been above average this season.

On the flip side, when Kase has been on the ice this season, the Ducks have been expected to give up 2.55 goals per hour. That is very slightly higher than his most common teammates, and part of the reason he has been below average in this regard.

I think much of this fall in value has come from his poor shooting percentage this season. He is shooting 4.31% at even strength this season, and has 3.68 fewer goals than expected according to Evolving Hockey. One may be tempted to look at his career shooting percentage of 9.49% and say he will regress, and that may be the case, but his recent results have been concerning.

Over the last two seasons, shooting percentage has been up around the league. At even strength, where we expected almost all of Kase’s minutes to occur with the Bruins, Kase has 15 goals on 346 shot attempts (198 of them on goal). That is a conversion rate of 4.3%, whereas the average second line forward is converting on around 6% of all of their shot attempts. I’ve used beta distributions on here before, and I think it paints the picture here quite well.

Kase has certainly been worse at shooting over the last two seasons than the average second line forward at even strength. Of course, there are a few things missing here. Contextually, Kase’s lower shooting percentage could be partially due to both his quality of teammate and bad luck. Furthermore, we are ignoring his previously two seasons where he was above average at 6.5% on all of his shot attempts (11.2% for shots on goal).

I am sure the Bruins were fully aware of Kase’s poor shooting this season and had their scouts look at it. This might not be a huge deal, but something to keep an eye on. Overall, based on the numbers, he is a strong play driver who may be able to ease some of the secondary scoring issues in Boston.

Filling in the Blanks

I think so far we have a good idea of what Kase’s value is, along with some relevant concerns, but we still have a lot of missing information. We know Kase is qualified to play a top-six role in Anaheim, but does he fit the Bruins’ job description?

From the players who’ve come and gone from that role, I think we have an idea of what the Bruins want in a top-six winger. Here are the specific “qualifications” for the Bruins job as I see them:

  • Responsible defensively
  • Good in transition
  • Can play down low in the offensive zone
  • High compete level

Heinen is responsible defensively, but is a perimeter player in the offensive zone. Donato was decent in the offensive zone, but struggled defensively. Of the many attempts from the Bruins to fill this position from inside of the organization, I don’t think any of the players fit the role the Bruins were looking for.

I went through some of the last few games Kase has played, and I think he may fit this description. Obviously, this isn’t nearly a large enough sample to make any strong conclusions, so take things with a grain of salt.

We know that he has been strong defensively over his short career so far, but what is driving that. Personally, I was quite impressed by his ability to make reads in the defensive zone.

In the clip above, Kase (#25) is forced to cover a lot of ice. He initially covers the back door option before skating across the ice to cover for his defenseman who is activating up the wall. This isn’t something Kase would be asked to do on the Bruins, but shows good awareness and a commitment to defense.

Here, Kase fails to execute defensively, but does show the awareness and commitment previously stated. I don’t feel that Kase will be asked to play down low too much in the Bruins system, so I personally care far more about his hockey IQ than his execution in this case.

Defense is something that is hard to evaluate, and takes a lot of viewing, so I won’t spend much time on this. He has been historically strong defensively, and seems to have a high hockey IQ from my viewings, so I don’t see a reason why he wouldn’t be defensively responsible moving forward with the Bruins.

Transition play is where things get fun with Kase. He shows a lot of speed and flash in transition, making him fun to watch.

Kase shows terrific acceleration with his crossovers here. The Maple Leafs were sitting back in a conservative 1-2-2, and Kase was able to perfectly execute this play to set up a controlled entry and shot attempt.

Later on in that game, Kase is able to take a horrible breakout pass and get through the neutral zone with control. He again shows good acceleration, but also poise and the ability to change directions quickly. He keeps his composure with three opponents around him, manipulates Hyman’s feet in order to find free space, and regroups once he gets to the blue line and realizes he cannot enter with possession.

Here, Kase again manages to create something out of nothing. I don’t think many players would have controlled this entry at all. Kase is able to sell the opposing forward on the outside, cut back inside, and use a push shot in order to get a shot on goal.

Kase visibly directing the play helps prove to us, those who can’t hear the on-ice conversations, that he was directing this play. Kase uses his crossovers to accelerate quickly up ice, finds the passing lane, and takes a shot in the high slot.

It is no wonder the Carolina Hurricanes were interested in Kase this summer. He is a beast in the neutral zone. No Bruins, outside of Pastrnak and Marchand, possess this ability in transition. He should be even more successful in Boston where Bruce Cassidy emphasizes possession through the neutral zone.

Kase is a player who I feel can use his skating abilities to protect the puck and make plays down low. In the clip above, he is one-on-one with a rookie defenseman and makes sure you know that. His ability to pivot and then accelerate gives him plenty of space to make a play.

There is far more defensive support from Montreal here, and not much from his own teammates, but Kase does it again here. He’s very elusive along the boards. I think these types of plays can turn into very dangerous scoring chances, especially with better teammates.

It helps that Kase is a hungry player. He is always looking to make a play, and gives 100% of his effort to do so. When Barrie slacks off just a tad getting to the loose puck, Kase goes and retrieves it, setting up a home plate shot.

Later on in the shift, Kase wins a battle on the boards, sends the puck to a teammate, and quickly gets to a soft spot in order to create another shot from the home plate area.

I think Kase checks all of the boxes for the Bruins. He has a high hockey IQ, is committed defensively, is strong in the neutral zone, can play down low in the offensive zone, and competes hard.

The Concerns

This has been a relatively positive article about Kase so far, but there are some concerns. For one, he generally has played in a third line role for the Ducks despite playing well in those minutes.

I think there is always a concern with players who have good “underlying numbers” but play down in the lineup that when they do come up, they will not have such strong impacts. And this season hasn’t been as strong for Kase in his increased role.

Additionally, Kase missed much of last season due to a torn labrum. He also missed the beginning of last season with a concussion. And that’s not to mention previous concussions that we know of in his pro career, going back to 2015-16 when he was in the AHL.

His inexperience, along with his injury history, drove down the price. The player himself is very good, but the Bruins will be introducing him to a new environment, and will be taking on those injury risks themselves. However, he only carries a $2.6 million cap hit until the end of next season and will see an increase in the quality of teammates he is playing with. I think Kase will be a delight to watch.