Toronto Maple Leafs: Time for Tyler Bozak to Prove Himself
This could be a very important year for Tyler Bozak in Leafs Nation.
Since joining the team in 2009, he’s shown steady, if not overly impressive, progress every season. He set a new career high in points (49) last season despite being limited to 58 games and the Toronto Maple Leafs look to build upon this trend when the new season opens on October 8th against the Montreal Canadiens.
Mar 1, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens goalie Peter Budaj (30) makes a save against Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak (42) during the first period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
At the same time, however, it’s not entirely clear Bozak will ever be able to reach the “next level” in his game. He’s now 28-years old, which some hockey observers would consider the peak or near-peak point of his career, and injuries have suddenly become a factor for him.
As mentioned, Bozak missed considerable time last season due to injury and he began the pre-season this year from the sidelines in the infirmary. He didn’t make his pre-season debut until last Friday, missing the team’s first four exhibition games. In the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t really matter, but it could indicate Bozak will start the season feeling a little under the weather. How things develop from there is anyone’s guess.
Turning to the three exhibition games where Bozak has been healthy enough to play, his record is good. He collected three points (one goal, two assists) in 18:23 minutes of playing time during the first game. He also won 74% of the faceoffs he took. (Keep in mind that all of this was accomplished against the lowly Buffalo Sabres.)
Over the next two games, he went pointless but continued to log high minutes and dominate in the faceoff circle. On their own, these are good numbers, but Bozak’s performance is being evaluated against the backdrop of Nazem Kadri, William Nylander, Petri Kontiola and Mike Santorelli.
In this respect, it can be argued Bozak didn’t standout in these games, especially when compared to Kadri, who’s also enjoying a strong pre-season campaign. The problem for Bozak is that his time on the Leafs’ first line might be limited. Kadri and Nylander are nipping at his heels and Kontiola and Santorelli are eager to make their presences known on the team.
May 13, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43), right wing Phil Kessel (81) and Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk (21)celebrate a goal during the third period in game seven of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
I’m not trying to suggest Bozak’s time on the first line is over. The job remains his to lose until one of these other centremen proves he can supplant Bozak playing alongside Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. Instead, my point is Bozak hasn’t really run away with the job, which creates room for these players to challenge him. We know Kadri wants his job.
After signing a five-year deal with the Leafs last off-season, Bozak isn’t leaving town anytime soon. Whether he remains on the first line or drops to the second line, however, could depend on his performance this season and how the players below him on the team’s depth chart perform as well.
If that’s true, it’s time for Bozak to really make his presence known.
It’s time for Bozak to prove himself as a bona fide first-line centreman.