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Bozak takes another step in his maturation as Leafs win on the Island

How many draws did Bozak win on Friday night, like maybe his first ten or so?  It was a small window into the impact that the young pivot has had more often than not in games so far during the 2011-’12 season.  One night it’s taking on the task of checking a good offensive center on the other team; another it's being on the ice in the dying seconds while protecting a lead, or scoring a key goal during a Leaf comeback.

Against the Islanders, it was not only his work on face-offs but also his sweet play to set up Crabb for a huge short-handed goal in second period to restore the Leafs’ two-goal lead—one they would never relinquish.

That play worked on a number of levels, besides being another example of Bozak’s often inspired (and more assertive) play with the Leafs this season.  First, it halted the bleeding on the Leaf penalty kill, after the Islanders had knocked home a power-play marker to make it a one-goal game early in the second period.  But maybe more importantly, it gave the Leafs back that two-goal cushion—and deflated the Islanders while boosting the Leafs’ psyche.

I posted on Bozak not long ago (click here) because I see in his development something we have no doubt all witnessed a number of times over the years with different young Leafs (and players from other organizations, too, of course).   

That is, most players—those who aren’t in classic elite superstar mold, those rare guys who seem to slip seamlessly into a first-line role offensively or a top pairing on the blueline—need to broaden their game pretty quickly.  If they are ”goal scorers”, for example, the coaching staff will often demand that they work on defense.  (Kadri being a classic current example in Toronto.)  It’s not enough to simply rely forever on what made you stand out in junior hockey.  Players may have to get bigger, stronger and quicker in most cases to keep up here.  They are expected to play hard in all zones of the ice and cut down on costly turnovers.  All this is drilled into them so that, ultimately, they can thrive and become a sound all-around player in the best league in the world.

Bottom line, it generally takes time to keep meeting the challenge of higher expectations, broader coaching demands and the relentless reality of the outstanding everyday opposition they face pretty much every night at this level.  It takes time for a player to achieve that balance of confidence, maturity—along with the wisdom acquired through the ups and downs of extensive game-experience—that is required to play to their potential.

For Bozak, it has meant (after a surprising and promising rookie season out of college) a somewhat un-fulfilling sophomore season a year ago, when he was a square peg pushed prematurely into a round hole on the Leaf “number-one” line—such as it was last season.

But now in year three, he is an imperfect player, yes, but one showing he has picked up some important things along the way. Importantly for me, he has shown a knack for not getting down on himself and just working hard to get better.  And better he has gotten, in ways large and small.

I like his all-around game, and this is one guy I feel good about trumpeting, because I have said here many times (especially last season when he was seen to be struggling, including with an un-impressive plus-minus total) that he had and has more to give.  I like his skill, his hands, how he sees the ice, and I like that he did not let the criticism he must have heard last season slow his determination—or his progress.

Pretty much, I like that he is good now and should only get better.  He is a young player, like Frattin, who has a higher ceiling than what we are seeing now, and can be an important player when the Leafs are really good.


Warm wishes for a Merry Christmas to all those who have taken the time to visit the “Vintage Leaf Memories” site.  I appreciate the many thoughtful comments, your feedback and value your support and the broad readership here.  I hope to hear from some of you.


  1. I think the key word is time. Too often in the past we have seen promising young players let go or traded only to go on and have productive careers with someone else. I have read comment after comment on Leaf blogs lately where people want to trade Bozak, Kadri, Schenn, etc. for some superstar. Burke has assembled a very good young team that is rapidly maturing but is still understandably prone to make mistakes. They will only get better but in the meantime a large dose of patience is needed. Bozak is a prime example of what can happen if you stick with a player.

  2. Bozak has been really impressive and has not looked out of place when he has been on the #1 line. I certainly agree that in the past the Leafs have given up on a number of players that have developed nicely for other teams. The Leafs have built up their feeder system for the Parent team and that allows them more patience to develop the players they need to stay competitive.

  3. I actually find myself checking to see if adding him to my keeper pool team is a viable option every few days now.

  4. Pete Cam...well said. Time and patience.

    Hoogy...I agree he has looked just fine between Kessel and Lupul and can play effectively with other units as well. Thanks for posting.

    KidK...good to know your motives are pure!

  5. I have to agree with recent comments and posts. While always very keen on Tyler Bozak, for a while I felt that he was not going to reach the potential that I had envisioned for him. Now I have the impression that he could exceed my expectations. I probably have a lot of company in being happy that he was not traded. The success of Jake Gardiner has also caused me to reevaluate my admittedly conventional thinking that he should have started the season on the farm. In the past, Maple Leaf player development errors have been easy to spot and the Gardiner path had the hallmarks of one. At this point it appears that Burke's development structure is vastly superior to what we have seen in the past. I am sure that many of us are monitoring player development with great interest. No matter how this all comes out, we can for a few days at least, like the players, enjoy Christmas with a couple of wins to accompany the Turkey and stuffing that will inevitably gather under our belts. After all, there is more to life than the Maple Leafs. Like a boxing day sale, the best of junior hockey awaits!

  6. Very well said, Bobby C. ....And wishes for a Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  7. Bozak has definitely been one of the better surprises this year. (That short-handed goal with Crabb was a beauty last night). His solid two-way play and harmony with Kessel and Lupul is really a pleasure to watch.
    While viewing the game last night, I tried to remember when I've a seen a Leaf team with so much creativity on offence - and couldn't come up with one! As I said the other day, Brian Burke has certainly kept his promise that, win or lose, the Leafs would be entertaining.
    Best wishes to all VLM'ers - and here's hoping it's a Happy New Year for all of us!

  8. Nicely said, Gerund O'...warm wishes for a wonderful Christmas. I'm sure many other VLM'ers extend the same wish to you!

  9. Bozak is finally playing like he should..

  10. I have always liked Bozak and am glad to see him performing so well this year. I still think he is not a bona fide 1st line guy and would like to see him on the third line. If the leafs ever find that first line guy, Bozak would be an ideal third or fourth line centerman. Imagine a lineup at center of
    1.Mysterious nnmber one guy (say Eric Stall for arguments sake)
    2.Tin Conolly. (very impressed with his work this year, for a guy with a soft reputation he sure goes to the dirty areas and blocks shots)
    3.Michael Grabovski.(perfect third line guy)
    4.Tyler Bozak. (now the Leafs would have a fourth line they could play consistently in all situations)
    This is a line up that could do serious damage.

    In response to Pete Cam. I hear this argument alot and I always feel compelled to answer. The Leafs have traded away young players forever only to watch them get better later. The difference this time is they have a well stocked farm system and they won't be trading young players for washed up vets like Brian Leetch and Ron Francis. At some point if a trade is there that gets the Leafs a young star player it must be looked at.

    An argument could be made in the Leafs handling of Gardiner this year. Conventional wisdom has it young player especially D-men must go to the minors. Looking at the history of the Leafs they have rushed players before and had it burn them. In this case however, the right thing to do was keep him up as he was simply the 2 maybe 3 best dmen right from camp.

    I guess all I'm saying is that each case is unique and should be looked at individually. As much as you should learn from history, neither can you be a slave to it. If a move is right for the team do it.

    Merry Christmas Michael and the rest at VLM and happy New Year.

    PS I do certainly like watching this years team. I can't remeber the last Leafs team that was this fast and still made such highly skilled plays.

  11. Great post, Wilbur. I think observers like Pete Cam and myself have probably shared the experience of seeing the Leafs trade guys in the past, so our antennae understandably go up a bit. Not that all of those were bad deals. The Leafs brought in guys like Owen Nolan, Francis and Leetch because they really did have a legitimate shot at a Cup run. That they did not make it to the finals doesn't necessarily mean those were "bad" trades. They took a shot at winning a championship, something the players definitely wanted to see management do at the time.

    But a lot of us have, yes, seen the team deal young guys in the past. In truth, I don't think any of the youngsters or picks dealt during the Quinn GM years have really had "outstanding" NHL careers. Maybe I'm missing somebody.

    That all said, we can probably all agree we have more depth now, and may be in a position to move youngsters or prospects when Burke feels the team is 'close".