The Toronto Maple Leafs received a late Christmas present when Tyler Bozak returned for the first time since Dec. 3.
Bozak led the way offensively for the Maple Leafs with a career-high three assists as Toronto defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2. The two-way center helped spark Phil Kessel’s two-goal effort in the team’s second win after the holiday break.
Kessel’s two-goal performance along with Bozak’s first game in nearly a month isn’t a coincidence. Although Bozak has been banged up for close two months of the season, when he has been the in the lineup he’s helped Kessel and James van Riemsdyk record nearly a point-per-game pace.
There’s no question the Maple Leafs are a different team with Bozak in the lineup as the underrated center is capable of playing in any situation. The team hasn’t been the same since he first went down with an injury on Oct. 25, and although he returned for five games late in November he quickly suffered another injury that forced him to miss an additional 12 games and Toronto was never able to replace him.
Bozak is a great defensive player who the Maple Leafs can depend on to win face-offs and play quality minutes on the penalty-kill. However, perhaps his most impressive trait is his ability to get Kessel and van Riemsyk going offensively. As talented as Nazem Kadri is, there is no question that Bozak has a better chemistry with the American wingers and is able to help the line produce offensively. Not only does he help spark Toronto’s two most important offensive players, but he also allows for Kadri to play second line minutes which improves the team’s offensive depth. With Kadri still coming into his own as a regular NHL player, allowing him to play a secondary role to Toronto’s top-line is a much better situation for the gifted young center.
Bozak’s return couldn’t have come at a better time given the Maple Leafs’ recent struggles. Toronto is hoping his return may finally signal the end of the team’s battle with the injury bug. Regardless, there’s no denying his career-night of three assists was a wonderful late holiday present.