Tyler Bozak To Center 1st Line In Toronto

(above) Just one year after leaving DU, Tyler Bozak is the first line center for the Toronto Maple Leafs

From: The Star
by Damien Cox

When Tyler Bozak was eligible for the NHL draft, no team was willing to waste even a low-round pick on him. Clubs were aware of him, just not interested. He left his hometown for Tier Two hockey in B.C., hoping it would help him get to a U.S. college. At the University of Denver, he was viewed as a skilled, smart player, but the stats weren’t overwhelming.

When Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke first saw him perform in a big rivalry game against Colorado College, he came away thoroughly unimpressed.

“He was terrible,” recalled Burke. “A really tough night.”

Yet here we are, poised to begin the 2010-11 NHL season, just 18 months after the talent-hungry Leafs outbid other clubs to sign Bozak as an unrestricted free agent, and Bozak, now 24, will begin the campaign as a No. 1 center in hockey’s best league.

Hard to believe, really. And, until Bozak proves he can do it, hard to believe for the simple reason it may yet prove to be a job this young man can’t fill.

Bozak is the great wild card of this Leaf season, more than how Dion Phaneuf will fit as team captain, more than how long it will take Nazem Kadri to work his way back to the NHL.

Throughout the pre-season, and in glimpses last season, Bozak has shown undeniable evidence of impressive skill and the fact he is one heady hockey player. At the same time, he is a No. 1 center in the NHL by default because he signed with a club that has no bona fide options.

If he can deliver, he will be that rarest of hockey breeds, one that slipped through the cracks not just to find his way to the NHL, but find his way there and become a high-end, big-money player.

It has happened before. There was, of course, Adam Oates, who signed as a college UFA back in 1985 with the Red Wings and went on to become a prolific playmaker. Andy McDonald went undrafted and was signed out of Colgate by Anaheim, and when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, McDonald centred their top line.

Then there’s the story of Steve Rucchin. Anaheim talent sleuth Dave McNab found the 23-year-old Rucchin at the University of Western Ontario and convinced the Ducks to take him in the 1994 supplemental draft. With, coincidentally, Ron Wilson providing daily encouragement as his first NHL coach, Rucchin blossomed into a consistent 20-goal, 60-point pivot.

In six exhibition games this fall, Bozak had two goals, two assists and a plus-2. He is already the team’s best defensive centre, has looked like an old pro between Kris Versteeg and Phil Kessel, isn’t easily panicked by checking pressure and appears to be a young player confident he is where he belongs.

“It was my goal. When I came here, I wanted to be on the top line. I wanted to play on the power play,” he said. “I’ve always been told I thought the game pretty well, and I think a lot of what happens in this league is you’ve got to be quick, and you’ve got to think quickly.”

He doesn’t need to shock the world and immediately be a 100-point man. Something on the order of 50-60 points would be more than acceptable.

That said, we’re beyond first impressions. The kid can play. Now, he’s got to produce.


du78 said...

Dave McNab went to Wisconsin, Pete went to DU.

puck swami said...

Dave MacNab was Gwoz' teammate at Wisconsin. Peter MacNab (Dave's brother) was the DU alum who went on to NHL fame as a player.

dggoddard said...

Thanks. Corrected.