One of the most polarizing members of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tyler Bozak, silenced many a critic in 2013-14 with a 49-point, 58-game campaign, a season which saw him cement his role as Toronto’s number-one centre and live up to his five-year, $21-million contract. Now entering the second year of that contract and set to pick up where he left off with familiar linemates in James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel, the 28-year-old will look to build on his career year.
A look at Bozak’s shooting percentage provides some insight into why he performed so well in 2013-14, and why he could struggle to reproduce this coming season. The Regina native has always posted high shooting percentages, finishing with a 12.6, 16.5 and 19.7 in the three seasons leading up to 2013-14, a season which saw him set a career-high with 21.1 per cent of his shots finding the back of the net. (Source: NHL.com) 21.1 is unsustainably high, and certainly contributed to his career-high point totals, though I personally wouldn’t expect too sharp of a drop off in 2014-15. It doesn’t take long to notice that Bozak prefers passing to shooting, and so far in his career he’s maintained above-average percentages by not shooting unless in a scoring position.
Another statistic which may suggest Bozak’s pass-first mentality is shot distance: No full-time Leaf forward shot from as close as he did on average in 2013-14, shooting from 26.5 feet away. (Source: Behindthenet.ca) For a comparison, fellow Leaf top-six centre Nazem Kadri took shots from an average of 32.4 feet away, and Kessel took his from a distance of 30.9 feet. Ultimately I think we can expect a familiar season from Bozak, with 45-55 points when all is said and done.
Bozak was used in all situations in 2013-14, taking minutes on both special teams on top of his role at even strength. He was the Leafs’ second-most used even-strength player with 17 minutes per game, plus substantial time on both the penalty kill and power play. I wouldn’t expect to see his usage change much this coming season, though the Leafs’ newly found bottom-six depth could help shave some minutes off his overall totals as the Leafs will (ideally) be more capable of playing all four lines in significant situations.
Biggest Question: Can Bozak continue to perform on Toronto’s top line, or is his production bound for regression?