Tyler Bozak has almost become the forgotten man on the Toronto Maple Leafs given all the buzz over the rookie call-ups and who may be joining the franchise this summer via free agency. With all the talk about William Nylander and Mitch Marner being the future faces of the Maple Leafs, it’s easy to forget about Bozak. Pile on more chatter about a potential No. 1 overall pick in this June’s draft along with rumors Steven Stamkos could sign as a free agent in Toronto and it’s even easier to forget about Bozak.
However, Bozak might be the most underrated player on the Maple Leafs and the exact type of player you’d want to surround younger players with, or even top-line centers in order to ease the load of battling down the middle of the ice. The center position is an area Toronto has struggled with since the departure of Mats Sundin, and the one player who has held his own at both ends of the ice at the position has been Bozak.
Bozak isn’t the most offensively gifted player by any means, but he does play with the type of heart and determination needed to win, especially in the postseason. He kills penalties effectively and always seems to have one of the best faceoff winning percentages in the league. Defensively he can more than hold his own, but that’s not to say he’s just a defensive forward. When Bozak was centering a line with James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel in previous years, the trio formed one of the best lines in hockey. Every time a new center such Nazem Kadri or Peter Holland jumped onto the line, the chemistry was never the same, proving Bozak does have underrated playmaking skills and the ability to play big minutes with elite wingers.
Bozak also has a relatively cap-friendly contract of only a $4.2 million cap hit for the next two seasons. Given that Kadri will be seeking a new contract this summer and will likely want more money than Bozak is making, it might be in the Maple Leafs’ best interest to move Kadri and keep Bozak. Although Kadri is younger and has greater potential, he has not shown the willingness to dig deep defensively and do the little things like Bozak does. Between the two, Kadri is much better offensively but Bozak is the well-rounded player better suited for a third-line center role who can kill penalties and occasionally jump up to play second-line minutes.
In a time when the Maple Leafs are undergoing a massive youth movement, there is no better player to lead by example than Bozak. He’s a defensively responsible forward willing to do all the little things needed to win and also stresses the importance of winning faceoffs. If a little bit of Bozak could rub off on all the rookie call-ups Toronto has seen lately, then the team would be grateful in the long run.