Apr 3, 2012; Buffalo, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak (42) skates with the puck and looks to pass during the first period against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Year Of The Bozak?

It’s hard to gauge anything yet in this three-day-old 2013 NHL season, especially when Daniel Winnik of the Anaheim Ducks is amongst the league’s top scorers. However, it’s hard not to get just a little bit excited about one Tyler Bozak if you are a Leafs fan. I haven’t chugged the entire glass of Kool-Aid just yet, but I’ll admit to taking a sip or two where Bozak is concerned.

After scoring the game winner on Saturday night in Montreal, Bozak added an assist last night and won 22-of-26 face-offs. Hockey pool fanatics with abstract categories take note.

This is only Bozak’s fourth NHL season and it’s hard to believe he is already 26-years-old. He’s right at that stage where the Leafs are dying to give up on him should he not perform well this year. Although Bozak is playing center on the number one line with Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel, perhaps that is not the best fit for him.

Bozak has never been a true scorer over his career. The only real explosive offensive season he had was in Junior A in 2006-07 where he put up 128 points in 59 games with the Victoria Grizzlies. Even in his two years at the University of Denver he wasn’t quite a point-a-game guy, and his best NHL season came last year with 47 points.

The tricky thing is figuring out where Bozak fits best. He has all the makings of a solid third-line center, as long as he isn’t asked to play any sort of defense whatsoever. In his three NHL campaigns Bozak is sporting a combined minus-41 rating. However, in some ways it makes a lot of sense to flip Bozak and Nazem Kadri in the line-up. Kadri played just over 15 minutes last night compared to the 21-plus that Bozak received. Giving Kadri a little extra ice-time with Kessel and Lupul makes that top line even more dangerous offensively.

Playing Bozak with Leo Komarov and James van Riemsdyk opens up some interesting scenarios also. Komarov seems like a pretty solid checker and could make up for some of Bozak’s defensive shortcomings, and van Riemsdyk still has a strong enough skillset for the group to generate chances. (As a side note, I think van Riemsdyk needs more ice-time. Getting less than 14 minutes last night against the Sabres isn’t enough of an opportunity for the big man to get into a rhythm.)

What does make Bozak versatile is his aforementioned ability in the face-off circle. He ranked second on the Leafs last year behind only David Steckel with a rate of 52.7%. Mind you, the Leafs as a whole ranked fourth in the NHL in 2011-12 when it came to face-off percentage, which has me somewhat doubting the legitimacy of the statistic entirely. Nevertheless, winning key draws is always crucial and it’s probably one of the reasons Bozak’s name has been floating around in the Roberto Luongo rumours.

Bozak has all the tools to be a solid NHL player, but what type remains to be seen. Is he a number one center and point producer? I’m not sure. But if he continues to play the way he has started the season, the Leafs can surely find a use for him somewhere.

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