When Phil Kessel was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins on July 1st, many thought that Tyler Bozak would be next to follow. Let’s rephrase that actually; people were certain of it, seeing as they thought that he would be moved beforehand. But sure enough, we’ve reached the end of September, and Young Bozak is still a member of the team, looking to show that he can play away from the player who has been on the ice for all but fourteen of his career even-strength points.
People often forget how much of a come-up story Bozak had. The Regina native was good, but not world-beating as a young teenager; his last season of local hockey saw him get outscored by Logan Pyett, a defenceman and eventual 7th round pick who never crossed over to the NHL. He wasn’t drafted into the WHL, and while he tried out for several teams, he wasn’t able to make the cut on any of them.
This turned out to be the best thing for him. Bozak took the Junior A route instead, playing for the Victoria Salsa (now Grizzlies) of the BCHL, progressively turning himself into a dynamic offensive player. In his last season with the team, he put up a stunning 128 points in 59 games, nearly double any of his teammates (including Jamie Benn, who admittedly was three years younger). As he didn’t earn a hockey income in the BCHL, he was eligible to jump to college and signed a letter of intent with the University of Denver Pioneers.
In his first year, Bozak impressed, leading Denver with 34 points in 41 games, earning himself a spot on the WCHA All-Rookie team. He entered the following season as one of the most hyped players in college hockey, scoring 23 points in 19 games, though unfortunately a knee injury took him out of most of the season. Even still, his performance earned him the attention of multiple NHL teams. It was a photo finish, and the Leafs almost lost the race to the Senators, but eventually, they got their man on a 2-year entry deal with a bonus structure akin to a top-five draft pick.
Bozak’s NHL beginnings took some time to develop. He didn’t make a late-season appearance like many others do when they sign, opting instead to recover from his injury. He performed well in training camp, but the Leafs were too close to the cap to take a chance on his bonuses. He started off well with the Toronto Marlies, but then developed a case of the H1N1 (Swine Flu) virus. But once he fully made the team in January, there was no looking back.
Since then, Bozak has played the bulk of his time on the first line, centering Phil Kessel and whoever the Leafs felt was the right fit at left wing on a given day. This has been a controversial decision amongst the fanbase; his detractors are quick to point out that he’s never scored more than 49 points in a season, though his fans will also point out that he’s missed time due to injury.
What To Expect in 2015-16
To be perfectly blunt? Who the <redacted> knows.
The issue with predicting Bozak’s performance without Phil Kessel is that, despite this being his seventh NHL season, we’ve never really seen it. At even strength, Bozak has only played 870 minutes without him over the course of his career, which is about half a season’s worth of hockey.
In that time, Bozak has put up 3 goals and 11 assists. Now, that’s really bad, but context is important too. One can assume that a significant chunk of his minutes without Kessel come from defensive zone deployments where Bozak’s responsibility is to win a faceoff, pockets where Kessel goes to the bench a couple of seconds before him, or when Bozak is out for the last stretch of a penalty kill and the offending Leaf comes out of the box to make things 5-on-5 again.
None of these situations really lead to opportunity; Bozak averages 16% fewer attempted shots in minutes away from Phil and gives up 5% more against him. Of course, we don’t know for sure how much of his time has been spent in those situations, but some benefit of the doubt could be given.
Just the same, however, going from Phil Kessel to PA Parenteau will no doubt put a dent into his point production, which is already below the curve for minutes. It’s also likely that his shooting percentage will drop a bit; losing a volume sniper like Kessel will require Bozak to take more shots that aren’t high-danger, which would bring anybody’s numbers down.
Again, it’s tough as nails to predict. I expect that he’ll bounce around the lines a couple of times as he tries to figure out what works best for him, but really have no idea beyond that.
- 2006/07 Brett Hull Trophy (most points in BCHL)
- 2007/08 All-Rookie Team, WCHA / NCAA
- 2007/08 Third All-Star Team, WCHA / NCAA
- 2008/09 All-Academic team, WCHA / NCAA
- Shootout Winner, 2014 NHL Winter Classic (come on, that was cool)
Still one of the best first career goals by any NHLer.
Sticking it to the team that almost signed him.
I received nearly 100 “HAHAH SUCKS TO SUCK JEFFLER” tweets within a minute of this goal.