Imagine if you will, being a free agent and having teams covet you; imagine Brian Burke wanting to sign you. Imagine scoring your first goal in the ACCÂ putting the puck through the legs of a Flyer defenseman and burying it top shelf with Phil Kessel providing the assist. Must be hard to be Tyler Bozak, right?
It was much harder than even he knew at the time. Bozak was â€œforcedâ€ to play No1 center position in only his second NHL season and thatâ€™s a lot to ask from a guy not named Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. There is no denying the pressure was overwhelming, as it often is in Toronto. Not having the poise or the confidence to play with Kessel that season, he found himself in a hole, finishing the season with a -29 and 32 points in 82 games. Ah the perils of being Tyler Bozak.
This year, weâ€™re seeing a reinvented Tyler Bozak, one that still relies on his very good and quickly improving defensive game, but we also see a player whoâ€™s grown in confidence and has no problem believing in his skillset. And it all comes with experience and familiarity with a) Phil Kessel, b) the NHL. Bozak realized what he needed to do to become an important player for the Maple Leafs, he realized that he needed to put a lot of effort into his offseason training and right now itâ€™s clearly paying dividends.
In 27 games played, heâ€™s already 14 points shy of his highest even NHL total, the aforementioned 32 points in 2010-2011 season, heâ€™s diving for pucks, preventing goals and most importantly he doesnâ€™t look out of place on a line with Phil Kessel. If anything, they look like a good fit.
But, here is where it gets tricky for Bozak. In the minds of our fan base and probably in the head of one Brian Burke, Bozak is expendable. Sure, he might be good friends with Phil Kessel, sure his play is certainly evolved but even at the slightest drop in form we wonâ€™t have any trouble making him the No1 offensive whipping boy once again. Is he tradable? Sure, why not? Especially if youâ€™re looking to sign a true No1 NHL centerman. Pretty bad to be Tyler Bozak eh?
This might be an overstatement, but unlike last season, I see Bozak as one of the most versatile players the Leafs have. You can pretty much move him up or down the lineup, he can kill penalties, heâ€™s quite good defensively and can provide some offense most of the time. Heâ€™ll give the coach 100% every night and is consistent most of the time, even if by consistent you mean effort more than, say, scoring. Not to get ahead of ourselves but my argument is, by being that 3rd line centerman on a Cup team who can also play a top six role, he certainly merits a place on any team. At the same time, heâ€™ll always be that guy whoâ€™s more talented than your average third line player and less capable of producing numbers needed for a regular top line spot.
That makes him the perfect whipping boy and thatâ€™s why his impact on this hockey team is often undervalued. Wherever he plays, he never seems to do enough. If itâ€™s the first line, he doesnâ€™t produce the numbers we would want from a top line C. If itâ€™s the third line, he isnâ€™t scoring enough for his talent level, at least that is how some people in Leafs Nation see it.
Fact is, everywhere he plays Bozak does enough for this hockey team to win. Heâ€™s a rare breed in the NHL, and a pretty underrated one. I think we should pay closer attention, because for everyone in this hockey club that matters, Bozak is most certainly here. That’s why it’s good being Tyler Bozak.
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