Ramblings: Hat tricks for Eberle and Spurgeon; Rangers rolling; dive on Kase
The big news from Friday was Boston's acquisition of Ondrej Kase from Anaheim. That team has been looking to adequately fill its second-line right wing spot for years now and no one has really been able to make a lasting impact, Kase might be that guy.
You can read Ian's take on the Kase trade here.
Normally when trades happen on days when I'm not covering, I'll just kind of let the person whose day it was to cover just take the ball. Kase, though, is kind of a special player for me. He's a guy whose virtues have been extolled at length by myself and others over the years. Let's go back a bit through his career.
As mentioned, he's been a favourite around here for a while. It basically goes back to his 2016-17 season even though he managed just five goals and 15 points in 53 games that year. It was a small sample but he had good play-driving numbers, had shot and expected goal rates similar to Rickard Rakell, and did so skating down the lineup with lesser line mates. The reason for getting excited was that, at the time, the team was starting to turn over and it seemed very likely that Kase was the top-line winger of the future for the Ducks. That meant fantasy owners could potentially land a top-line winger for the 2017-18 season very late in drafts.
The 2017-18 season could be seen as his breakout year, even if he failed to crack 40 points. He did manage 20 goals, and did so while getting very little power-play exposure; he played just 1:16 per game at 5-on-4, yet still finished second on the team in goals per 60 minutes at all strengths (1.31), finishing just behind Rickard Rakell (1.35). Kase did lead the team in shots per 60 minutes at all strengths, so yes, this was basically Kase's breakout season, even if he failed to crack 14 minutes a night in ice time. He had made good on his promise, even in a lesser role without playing a full season due to injury (66 games).
We now had parts of two seasons and had seen both improvement and impact from Kase. League-wide, his two-year average WAR/60 minutes (from Evolving Hockey) compared favourably to other wingers like Mitch Marner, Leon Draisaitl, and Vladimir Tarasenko. We had just 1500 or so minutes of game action of Kase to go off, but everything was looking up.
The 2018-19 campaign was a downturn as he missed half the season with a torn labrum, and he missed the first month and a half to boot. Kase played just 30 games, and the injuries were starting to pile up.
Now, it should be mentioned that Kase was great when healthy in 2018-19. Kase ended up leading the Ducks in goals per 60 minutes, shots per 60 minutes, points per 60 minutes, and individual expected goals per 60 minutes. So, even though we had another injury-shortened season, we had more great performances in a smaller sample for Kase for the third year in a row.
And that's why fantasy owners were excited for Kase in 2019-20, even with the injuries starting to mount. The Ducks were in rebuild mode and it seemed likely he would play all the minutes he could handle both in the top-6 and on the power play. While he did see an increase in minutes – he's playing a career-high 16:47 per game this year, over a minute more than any prior season – it wasn't a huge download of TOI for Kase. He hasn't been able to stay healthy – he's out for Boston right now and there's no real timetable for when he'll return.
It hasn't been a great year for Kase, either, though I'm not sure it's entirely his fault. His two most common line mates on the season have been Sam Steel and Max Jones. While Steel is highly thought of in the organization, he's not an elite-tier prospect, and he needs more experience to really get up to speed. Jones isn't a special player by any means, and that shows in their production: in 240 minutes with Jones and Kase on the ice at 5-on-5, the Ducks are shooting 5.8 percent, whereas they're shooting 9.3 percent when Kase is on the ice without Jones.
Shooting percentage has been an issue for Kase individually as well. Overall, he's shooting just 5.2 percent this year compared to 11.4 percent over his first 149 games of his career. If we doubled his goal total – which would still leave him below his career shot rate – he'd be on pace for 23 goals on 226 shots this year. That would play in many fantasy leagues as a depth winger.
It's very much worth noting that even as his shooting percentage has tanked, Kase leads the Ducks in primary assists per 60 minutes this year. League-wide, over the last three seasons, his primary assists/60 rate at 5-on-5 (0.75) compares favourably to guys like Paul Stastny (0.77), Mikko Rantanen and David Perron (0.76), and Jack Eichel and Alex Radulov (0.75). He's in the 80th percentile of primary assists over the last three seasons and has done so on a team that is 26th in the league in goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 in those years. He's done that, mind you, without playing with guys like Patrik Laine, Nathan MacKinnon, Max Pacioretty, Ryan O'Reilly, Jeff Skinner, or Tyler Seguin, as others on the list have. This is all partly because he's great in transition, as evidenced by his zone entry/exit rates over his first three seasons, as well as his shot assists (passes leading to shots). This is from CJ Turtoro's viz:
And now the picture of what makes Kase so appealing is complete. As mentioned earlier, he has, at times, put up phenomenal shot rates. In fact, over his first three seasons, he was in the 92nd percentile in shot rate, putting up a shot rate (9.5 per 60 minutes) favourably to other volume shooters like Pacioretty (9.56), Marchessault (9.27), and Parise (9.19). He is a great playmaker, as evidenced by his underlying transition stats and average shot assist rates, and there is reason to believe he's very good defensively (which means once he locks down a role, he should hold on to it, even in cold streaks). As far as performance on the ice goes, he is very close to the total package. There is a reason that fantasy owners have been drooling at the prospect of 19 minutes a game from him for years now.
Of course, as was mentioned sporadically through the article, Kase hasn't been able to stay healthy. Setting aside his rookie year, he's only played 64.4 percent of his games over the last three seasons, which works out to 53 games played every 82 games. That is nowhere near enough for him to be a reliable fantasy asset (believe me, I own him in a few leagues). The injury concerns are very real.
On the flip side, one of my favourite arguments is that a player is a health risk until he's not. It's easy to forget that there were serious injury concerns for Aleksander Barkov as recently as a couple years ago. And then he played 79 games in 2017-18, 82 games in 2018-19, and has missed just three games this year. That's six games across nearly three full seasons. The same could be said for Rick Nash in his early days with Columbus, and then he had a streak of six straight seasons with at least 75 games played, averaging 78 games per season. So, yes, the injuries for Kase are a problem right now. That doesn't mean they'll be a problem two years from now.
It's a matter of how much risk fantasy owners are willing to swallow. I truly believe that if Kase can play 17-18 minutes a night on Boston's second line with top PP minutes, he's very capable of 30-goal, 65-point seasons. It's worth mentioning that he doesn't put up peripherals – he has 35 PIMs and 51 hits over his last 145 games. A guy putting up like 20 PIMs and 25 hits doesn't move the needle in multi-cat formats. In those leagues, he really needs to put up goals, shots, and points to be valuable, and he'll need commensurate ice time to put up those goals, shots and points. If he's playing 15 minutes a night on the third line with secondary PP minutes, I'm not sure how much fantasy value he'll have in Beantown. If he can stay healthy, stay in the top-6, and get top PP minutes, he'll get closer to his fantasy ceiling much faster than he would have in Orange County.
Jordan Eberle scored his first hat trick in nearly three years as the Islanders mathematically eliminated the Red Wings from playoff contention. He played 20:35 and managed five shots on goal while skating on the top line.
It's very much worth noting how much Eberle's ice time has climbed of late. He has played at least 19 minutes in five straight games, averaging 20:50 in that span. There are injuries going through the Islanders lineup and it looks like until they get healthy, Eberle, Mat Barzal, and Anders Lee are going to play all the minutes they can handle.
Speaking of hat tricks, Jared Spurgeon! He actually had a hat trick against Edmonton in Edmonton as the Wild topped the Oilers 5-3. Spurgeon finished the hatty with an empty-net goal, which is kind of a nice tough for the Wild blue liner. No need to work too hard to finish it off. His stat line read three goals, six shots, three blocked shots, two PIMs, and a hit. That's a solid fantasy performance.
Edmonton's second line continued their torrid pace in the loss as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins put up 2+1, Leon Draisaitl put up 1+1, and Jordan Yamamoto put up 0+2. While Draisaitl is getting the press for the Hart Trophy, and Yamamoto some ink for his play since the recall, it's very much worth mentioning that RNH has 28 points in his last 20 games going back to New Year's Eve. I wonder where he fits into Edmonton's plans moving forward.
The Rangers took a 5-2 win in Carolina from the Hurricanes, and I wanted to note just how well the Rangers are playing of late. Since the calendar turned to 2020, they're 11th in expected goal share (ahead of Nashville, Edmonton, Philadelphia, and the Islanders), 10th in shot share, and 13th in goal share. They are tied for 8th in points percentage in that span, going 13-8-0.
I really, honestly don't think this team is far away from being a Cup contender. The top-6 is legitimately great, Adam Fox has turned into a top-pair defenceman, and Igor Shesterkin has been great since his recall. If their young duo on the third line in Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko can come along, and the team adds one more true top-4 defenceman, I think they're right there. I think this rebuild is much further along than some people might suspect, especially if those people think this is the same Rangers team that was getting pummeled nightly earlier in the year. If they go sign a top-4 defenceman and Chytil/Kakko take a big step forward, this is a dangerous, dangerous team.
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