Why Ondrej Kase might be Bruins’ top X-factor this season

(Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)

For as much as the quest for a reliable winger to pair to David Krejci's right has been an arduous affair for years now, it appears as though the buck stops at Ondrej Kase — at least, that's the hope for Bruce Cassidy and his staff this season.

Even though the sample size is small when it comes to charting out just how potent Krejci and Kase can be together (just 54:46 of 5v5 ice time together last season), Cassidy hasn't split up the Czech forwards at all during this abbreviated training camp at Warrior Ice Arena — with the B's bench boss hoping to keep Krejci's line intact for the long haul during this 56-game campaign.

"We’re going to try to sort of push away what happened last year, and focus on the positives of when they played well together,” Cassidy said of the second line earlier this week. ” They will have a consistent right wing as well. We’re hoping that Ondrej Kase fits in there on a permanent basis now. I’ve been known to shuffle my lines. I’m sure that will happen from time to time. … We’re hoping that Kase is that guy. We’re seeing some good scrimmages out of them now. Some chemistry, fresh start, so to speak, we like what we’ve seen so far. … So we see a much more solidified top six and Jake (DeBrusk) is part of that."

It's a refreshing development, for sure - given how much Boston has struggled in terms of finding the right pieces to slot in next to Krejci over the years — with the veteran pivot logging at least 15 minutes of 5v5 ice time with 12 different lineup combinations in 2019-20. That's actually a step in the right direction, as he skated on 15 different line combinations under a similar sample size in 2018-19.

And yet, for as many uncertainties as there are on this Bruins roster when it comes to its blue line, Kase presents his fair share of questions as well — ones that, if unanswered or unrealized, could cause major issues for a top-six unit that needs to produce at a high rate beyond the likes of its potent top line.

As we've covered multiple times before at BSJ, Kase arrived in Boston back in February 2020 as an analytics darling — with underlying metrics framing the narrative of a shoot-first winger poised to break through if paired with more potent playmakers beyond what he was saddled with in Anaheim.

From 2017-19, Kase ranked 39th in the NHL (min. 500 minutes played) when it came to individual points per 60 minutes of 5v5 play at 2.23 — pacing other established players such Jamie Benn (2.22), Phil Kessel (2.22), Mikko Rantanen (2.13) and Vladimir Tarasenko (2.09). During that same stretch, Kase ranked ninth overall in terms of individual shots per 60 minutes at 10.54 — ahead of Nathan MacKinnon (10.53), Patrice Bergeron (9.93) and Jack Eichel (9.93).

Even though a regular season cut short by COVID and a missed training camp in July due to health protocols limited the amount of time that Kase was able to build chemistry with both Krejci and DeBrusk, scoring chances always seemed to follow the right winger when he was out on the ice up in the Toronto bubble, ranking ...