Tyler Bozak’s most productive NHL season came at age 30 after years of being criticized. If he can do that, you can do anything. Subbing in a 19-year old Mitch Marner for Phil Kessel while keeping his usual linemate of JVR, Bozak was able to elevate his game to a level perhaps only comparable to the 2013-14 season where he thrived in a season where the Leafs did not. Now that he’s finally, finally gotten the monkey off his back as a productive enough NHLer for his contract, a very good setup guy and isn’t tasked with playing as the Leafs’ first line centre, Bozak had a very solid year in 2016-17. In a reduced role, he flourished. Technically, he was the 3C, by a whole nine seconds of average ice time, but the JVR-Bozak-Marner combo played like anything but a third line.
Bozak’s best highlight came in Game 3 against the Washington Capitals.
Bozak is almost like a video game player sometimes in the way he plays. In that, he’s the centre you never shoot with unless it’s necessary because you just pass off to the two star wingers you have on the same line. He took just 145 shots in 78 games this season, compared to 238 for JVR and 176 for Mitch Marner. His 37 assists ranked 3rd on the team, and 45th in the league. Overall, he finished tied for 60th in league scoring with 55 points, putting up the same totals as Derek Stepan, Ryan O’Reilly, and Kyle Turris, all players who are either the 1 or 2C on their teams, respectively. From an offensive standpoint, Bozak is just about all you could ask for as a complementary, but not starring centre: he feeds the puck to the better players on the line, doesn’t try to do too much himself, and lets them work their magic. His 37 assists were a career high, as were his 11 power play assists.
A career 15.1% shooter, perhaps influenced by his shot selection, Bozak actually had a down year by his accuracy standards, shooting only (haha) 12.4%. Though he’s hit 20 goals just once, he hit 18 goals for the fourth time this season, which is almost as good and also a totally arbitrary number. He was a menace in the faceoff circle, winning 56.7% of draws, also a career high, and had 52 takeaways, the second highest number of his career.
Though there was once an article saying Tyler Bozak could be “Toronto’s Bergeron”, and even though he’s received Selke votes, Bozak isn’t exactly the best player defensively. He came out as a positive position player, but mostly because of the crazy amount of offence produced by his line. Bozak doesn’t exactly shoot a lot either, but as discussed above, he does that more because of choice rather than a lack of ability. He was 63rd in the league (in a bad way) in terms of the highest CA60 allowed by any regular forward this season, and as you can see below, doesn’t suppress shots all that well.
Where are the critics of Tyler Bozak now?
But seriously, Bozak’s found himself a solid niche and honestly might be the best offensive 3rd-line centre in hockey, if we can call his line (with wingers who scored 61 and 62 points) the Leafs’ third line. He’s not exactly a stud defensively, but his line somehow still comes out with good possession numbers because man, do those boys shoot the puck.
His name’s been floated in trade rumours for years now, but I honestly think he’s probably here for as long as he wants to be if the contract is affordable (he’s a UFA after this year). Whatever the case, Tyler Bozak Twitter is much nicer now that we can appreciate his contributions rather than argue about his worth.