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Ondrej Kase is Money Well Spent by the Maple Leafs

When out of the lineup, Kase's versatility is sorely missed. With eight goals this season, the $1.25-million player has provided incredible value..

LAS VEGAS -- Ondrej Kase didn't want to talk about how he injured himself in the gym.

The Toronto Maple Leafs' forward was just happy to be back again skating with his teammates.

"I'm really excited, it was a nice practice and we'll see what's going on tomorrow." Kase said on Monday.

The speedy Czech missed the club's last two games, but his absence was most notable on Saturday in the Maple Leafs' 5-4 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

Already thin on the right side with star forward Mitch Marner absent due to COVID-19 protocol. The club moved winger Alex Kerfoot to his off wing to skate alongside Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting.

Should Kase not have any setbacks from Monday's skate, it's likely he'll be back in the lineup when his club visits the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night.

Officially, he's a game-time decision.

"Certainly when he's in the lineup for us, we're a much deeper team in all regards. Another guy that we trust playing against anybody and that can play on any line," Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said of Kase. "You're always looking for guys to step up in those situations and Kase did that when Marner was out prior to Christmas. He was outstanding."

Kerfoot performed well in Kase's place with a goal and two assists against his former club, but the shift in Kerfoot to the top line meant Ilya Mikheyev moved up to the second line to fill in for Kerfoot. Without Mikheyev, Pierre Engvall (on COVID-19 protocol) and Kase, the Leafs lacked a proper checking line to keep the Avalanche from coming from behind to win the game.

There's no timetable for when Marner and Engvall will rejoin the club. Both were placed in COVID-19 protocol on Jan. 7.

Kase was back on the first line with Matthews and Bunting at practice on Tuesday. The trio played as a line for the team's last two games in December before the club had to pause all activities due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Kase also skated with Matthews in November in a road game against the Buffalo Sabres.

"He works extremely hard, he hounds pucks and he's got really good playmaking abilities, has got a lot of speed and easy guy to play with," Matthews said of Kase. "There's some good chemistry there and some familiarity so hopefully with him on that right side we can kind of continue where we left off."

Like Marner, Kase is a key cog on both special teams units for the Leafs. Kase was in the bumper spot of the team's first power-play unit, a position he occupied previously when Marner was out with a shoulder injury in December.

Kase has provided incredible value for the Leafs this season. Limited to just three games last season due to a head injury, he became an unrestricted free agent when the Boston Bruins didn't tender him a qualifying offer.

The Leafs, in search of value given how tight they were under the NHL salary cap, made a buy-low move to sign Kase on a one-year deal worth $1.25 million. To say it worked out well would be an understatement.

Despite missing some games this season, Kase's is fourth in team goals scored with eight in 28 games. Other than Michael Bunting (signed to a two-year deal with $1.9 million), Kase has been  arguably been the best dollar-for-dollar signing by the club this past summer.

"I think he's the type of player that just injects energy into your team," Jason Spezza said of Kase. Just a great attitude. Great guy. He's just been a really solid addition for us."

  

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