A tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme, David Krejci having uncertainty on the right wing.
It feels like it’s been eons since the Bruins second line center has had any sort of consistency on his right. Some of his linemates on that side over the years include David Backes, Karson Kuhlman, Jimmy Hayes, Ryan Donato, Brett Connolly, Anders Bjork, and an out-of-position Charlie Coyle.
It’s less than great.
For a team with as much success as the Bruins have had in the past three seasons it’s really a wonder they’ve been able to get away with it.
Ondrej Kase is the next man up in their attempt to find Krejci a consistent partner. Acquired from the Ducks in the David Backes trade last season, Kase has hardly had a chance to gain momentum in Boston, still seeking his first goal with the Bruins.
He showed some spurts in the bubble playoffs, notching four assists, and certainly has the speed to keep up with Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
The biggest detriment to if Kase gets a real shot at consistency with Krejci is the Bruins seeming inability to allow consistency to fester.
Bruce Cassidy has been a line shuffler the moment he took over as head coach, and it’s tough to argue with getting to a win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup. That line movement, though, hasn’t allowed many new combinations to blossom.
Bjork struggled for two years being moved out of position and getting injured on his off side before he started to shine a year ago. Coyle, though he’s come into his own as the third line center, was moved every which way when he first joined the Bruins. Sean Kuraly has been bumped all through the lineup.
Some of that is the massive amount of injuries they’ve sustained, but part of it is also a stubbornness to stick things out.
For Kase to reach any sort of success, he needs to be allowed more than a few games to get going. There needs to be a commitment to making it work, and the Bruins could find themselves with not just the most dominant line in hockey, but one of the deepest forward lineups.
Ondrej Kase (to Boston) is an extremely good driver of play with a great shot and a good penalty differential. How he's languished in obscurity this long is a mystery to me. pic.twitter.com/CdoJ24bQDM
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) February 21, 2020
At 34 years old, Krejci and his $7 million-cap hit hits the free agent market after this season. Given the Bruins ambivalence with Torey Krug walking this offseason, and up-and-coming center Jack Studnicka approaching NHL-readyness, it’s tough to say if they plan on retaining their long-time center.
Whether they should or shouldn’t isn’t really the point of finding consistency this season. There’s some evidence they’re grooming Coyle for that second line center role if Krejci departs, and they’ve added more depth on the right with free agent signing Craig Smith, who will play with Coyle this season.
Commit to Kase
Kase is a long-term commitment, though. He’s just 25 years old, and his 97 career points in 204 games is more production than they’ve gotten out of most of the forwards they’ve developed in recent memory. He’s a restricted free agent this offseason after a cap hit of $2.6 million, so there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t retain him.
Part of Kase’s value comes on five-on-five, an area the Bruins have struggled in with just 141 even strength goals — tied with the Hurricanes for 16th in the league — last season. This contrasts with their power play that’s produced at the top of the league, tied for third last season.
Kase is a five-on-five player, and any consistency between him and Krejci is going to make them more dangerous when they aren’t getting power play chances. Since David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand both could miss some time at the start of the season, that could be important.
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) February 21, 2020
Krejci is a playmaker and having someone like Kase who can produce his own shots with his speed also opens him up to create even more. After spending a couple of seasons with a shooting percentage around nine percent, it dropped off dramatically the past two seasons, but some of that could be attributed to playing with a lousy Ducks team.
An entire season with Krejci could get Kase back above the six percent or so that second line wingers tend to average, and he’s shown the capacity to reach even higher.
Either way, if the Bruins can make Kase stick they’ll have done something they haven’t been able to do in some time, but it’s up to them to stick with it without moving the lines around every which way. That requires some patience, tough to have in a shortened season, but they have to be all in on Kase.