Ottawa Senators Report Cards: Mark Kastelic

Big Mark Kastelic Checks In

Ottawa Senators Report Cards: Mark Kastelic
Photo by Matthew Fournier / Unsplash

Reader Grade: C, Staff Grade: C-

If you were to take a survey of NHL coaches where you asked them to enumerate the characteristics of their ideal fourth line centre, you would get something pretty darn close to Mark Kastelic:

-Size? Check. Kastelic measures 6'4 and weighs a hearty 226 lbs.

-Face-off acumen? Check. Kastelic won 54.4% of his draws in 2023-24, and a stellar 56.3% of all face-off he's taken across his three seasons in the NHL.

-Physicality? Check. Though his raw hits totals might not seem impressive, he was actually the 25th most frequent hitter in the entire league once you adjust for ice-time – ahead of even Brady Tkachuk. When Kastelic was out there, he was finishing his checks.

-Defensively responsible? Check. Kastelic is sound positionally and can slow down the other team's attack.

So: why do both the readers and the staff see Kastelic as having been medicore at best this past season? Well, the first place to start would be with his offensive contributions. In his third NHL season, Kastelic suited up for 63 games and notched five goals and five assists for ten points. Raw points are one thing, but it's important to control for playing time; unlike with the hits totals, Kastelic's relatively meek offensive output doesn't look any better from a rate perspective. He was 323rd among forwards who played at least 200 mins at 5v5 this season.

It's more than just his own offensive production that doesn't quite pass muster, though. When he's on the ice, the Sens have a hard time generating much by the way of chances at all. Here's how Micah McCurdy's model over at Hockeyviz sees Kastelic:

Basically, his decent defensive impacts are more than offset by his limited offensive contributions. The Sens were slightly below water by shots, chances, and goals at 5v5 when Kastelic was on the ice. It wasn't disastrous, but it wasn't great.

There is some necessary context here, though: Kastelic's most common linemate, by a wide margin, was Parker Kelly. Together they went through a rotating cast of players on the fourth line, to varying degrees of success. When Kastelic and Kelly suited up alongside Boris Katchouk things went swimmingly. When they were paired with Dominik Kubalik, however, it was a pretty thorough disaster.

One thing that did change markedly for Kastelic this year vs. his first two seasons in the league was his deployment. Before this year, it was quite common to see DJ Smith send Kastelic over the boards to take any number of key defensive zone draws, which led to a heavily skewed zone start %; not so much this season, when both Smith and then Martin were prone to having another centre take most D Zone draws. Kastelic actually was more likely to start his shift in the offensive end this year, though, to be clear, the majority of his shifts started on-the-fly than after a stoppage. Furthermore, Kastelic was studiously kept away from the other team's top two lines this season. His role, under both Smith and Martin, was to play against the other team's bottom two lines and not give up anything by the way of offense. If the Sens created anything of their own, that was a bonus. I wouldn't say he was wildly effective at this, Ottawa did get out-shot and out-scored when he was on, but he mostly kept the boat afloat.

At the end of the day, I find it hard to get too worked up one way or another about Kastelic. The concept of Kastelic as a big, bruising, defensively responsible centre certainly has appeal. But the reality of Kastelic in the NHL is that he's a limited player who can only really be used in a narrow manner. He's not sinking your team in his role, but he's not propelling them forward, either. He's a fourth liner on a weaker team, and likely a 13th forward/first AHL call-up in a strong organization. At 25, I think it is unlikely that he will improve, though you can probably count on him to deliver at roughly this level for a couple more seasons.

Kastelic's contract is up after this season, and though as of this writing I'd say it's quite likely he starts next year as the team's fourth line centre, I do wonder if this is sort of do or die time for Kastelic with the Sens' organization.

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