By Thomas Harrington
Among Anaheim’s 2016-2017 prospect class, there was no bigger surprise than Ondrej Kase. The former seventh round pick was known by few and even fewer expected him to make the NHL ever, let alone this year. I admit, I didn’t expect him to play for the Ducks this season; I was hoping he would get that chance in the next year or so. But through perseverance and some luck, he made Anaheim’s roster early in the season and ended up playing in 53 games.
Kase had a strong training camp, but started the season down in San Diego. In six games in October with the Gulls, Kase scored two goals and four points. In early November, the Ducks recalled Kase and he made his NHL debut on November 2; he picked up his first career assist two days later. He then went back to San Diego, but returned to Anaheim before November was over. He finally scored his first career goal in his eighth NHL game. Overall, Kase scored five goals and 15 points in Anaheim. He bounced around the lineup, sometimes lining up next to Ryan Getzlaf, sometimes next to Rickard Rakell, and sometimes next to Antoine Vermette. I think he was at his best when he was playing alongside Getzlaf and Nick Ritchie, as the two young players seemed to bring a lot of energy to that top line. He also had some nice chemistry with Vermette and Ritchie. In the AHL, Kase played in only 14 games but scored six goals and 12 points.
In the playoffs, Kase once again split time between Anaheim and San Diego. He only played in three games with the Gulls and collected one assist in the first round against Ontario. If he’d been with the Gulls in their series loss to San Jose, it’s possible things could have gone differently. With the Ducks, he only played in three games through the first two rounds of the playoffs and didn’t record any points. However, Anaheim was depleted by injuries by the time the conference finals rolled around; Kase was pressed into action and he played in all six games. He even saw time on the top line when both Rakell and Patrick Eaves were out of the lineup. He picked up his first career goal in Anaheim’s 5-3 victory in game two. He scored his second point and goal of the series in the game six loss to Nashville.
It’s safe to say that Kase exceeded expectations in pretty much every way this season. A year ago, I wanted him to stay healthy and to become a much more consistent scorer in the AHL; I wasn’t expecting him to be anywhere near the NHL. However, a strong training camp, combined with a good start to the season, earned him a trip to the NHL, and he made the most of it. In his first season in North America, he only played in 25 games for the Gulls as he missed most of the season with a concussion. After missing so much time with such a serious injury, him playing a full season in the AHL would have been a huge accomplishment. Instead, he made his way to the NHL and didn’t look too out of place. The few times he was with the Gulls, he did show that he had become a much more consistent scorer.
Despite not scoring a ton, Kase is a young player with a scoring touch who can provide a lot of energy on the ice. Now, the key for him is going to take that energy and use it to become a more productive NHL player. It’s not a guarantee that he is even with Anaheim for the entire season; he could go the Chris Wagner route and split time between AHL and NHL after graduating from the prospect ranks. However, I am expecting Kase to play more than 53 games next season and put up some better offensive numbers. I think he’ll bounce around the lineup a bit, but I’m hoping he can get something around 10 goals and 25 points. Even if he scores at a similar rate to last season, as long as he appears in most of Anaheim’s games, those numbers should be well within his reach. We’ve seen him be a scorer in the AHL and he’s shown that he can score at the NHL level, but next season he’s going to get the chance to show that he can score at a much more consistent rate in the NHL.
Kase has one more year left on his entry-level deal and will be a restricted free agent next summer. As of right now, he’s unlikely to get a long term extension with Anaheim. However, if he can have a breakout year, the Ducks could decide to extend him by three or four years. But, I think that it’s more likely the Ducks give him a new deal for one or two years. The extra time will show whether or not he has a long term future with Anaheim. If he can, then I’d expect him to get a longer term deal. If not, then the Ducks may decide to give him a chance elsewhere.
Grades are really based on meeting expectations, and Kase wildly exceeded his this season. Even though he didn’t score a ton, I give him an A+ rating for the season. He wasn’t expected to even make his NHL debut; he was supposed to be on of San Diego’s leading scorers. Instead, Kase spent most of the season with Anaheim and showed that he belonged. A year ago, I said that Kase could end up being one of the steals of the 2014 Draft. A year later, it’s safe to say that he definitely is.
The final graduated prospect of the 2016-2017 season is Brandon Montour.
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June 7th, 2017