Things have changed in Leaf Nation. Remember the days when Maple Leaf management and fans preyed
the team would sign an aging star to act as the team’s savior and lead them to
the promise land?
A player that that would finally get the team over its
seemingly ever-lasting drought and bring the Stanley Cup home to it’s rightful
owner for a fourteenth time. Fans watched players like Cujo, Sundin, Mogilny,
Roberts, Tucker, Gilmour, Francis, Nieuwendyk and Nolan come into town and fail
miserably in their attempts to achieve this lofty goal.
And the list goes on and on. I still have nightmares with
flashes of blue and white players hoisting the Cup over their heads. In real
life, I’ve watched the team constantly give up youth and/or high draft
picks for aging veterans past their prime and giving them one last chance at
the Cup before they retire.
The result? The Leafs haven’t even made the playoffs in five
Those were the old days. Burke and Nonis have completely
taken ‘the foot off the gas’ for a quick fix and are preparing to mold several
players into champions, themselves. So is their optimism and hope for the
future? You better beLeaf it.
There is a new swagger and direction for the Leafs. What was
the major problem during our Leaf cup runs? The team lacked prospect depth and
Hockey’s Future ranked Toronto 6th in prospect pool
organizational ranks, moving the team up twelve spots from last year’s ranking.
The Leafs have an abundance of youth and talent in their farm from great
drafting and scouting as well as depth in the net with the additions of Rynnas
and Scrivens, who will be in the AHL soon. The Leafs have several other young
players who are getting ready to show the NHL what they’re made of.
Canadian-born Tyler Bozak is a perfect example of the type
of player I’m talking about.
Bozak is an intelligent two-way player who has good
offensive instincts. His main asset is his hockey sense and his hockey know how
to position himself on the ice to get the job done.
He has the potential to be a second line center who can play
special teams and is likely the most NHL-ready among the Leafs current prospect
Bozak, born March 19, 1986, is a centre who played two seasons
with the University of Denver Pioneers of the National Collegiate Athletic
He started playing in the British Columbia Hockey League
(BCHL) for the Victoria Salsa in ‘04–05. He spent three seasons in the BCHL
with the Victoria franchise. In his final season, He wracked up 128 points (45
goals and 83 assists), and was awarded the Brett Hull Trophy as the league’s
On December 11, 2006, the University of Denver Pioneers
announced Bozak had signed a letter of intent to play hockey for the school. He
joined the Pioneers for the 2007-08 season. During his freshman year with the
club, he played in all 41 games and led the team in scoring with 34 points (18
goals and 16 assists). He was also second in the country with five shorthanded
During the season, Bozak was named the Red Baron Western
Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) Rookie of the Week four times and was
named the Hockey Commissioner’s Association (HCA) Rookie of the Month for
December. At the end of the season, Bozak was named to the All-WCHA third team
and to the All-WCHA Rookie Team.
After his sophomore season, Bozak was a heavily pursued free
agent. He signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs
on April 3, 2009.
Bozak attended the Maple Leafs training camp for the 2009-10
season. He had a strong training camp, but because of salary cap concerns, he
was sent down to the Leafs American Hockey League (AHL) Toronto Marlies.
He was called up by the Leafs on October 13, 2009 and made
his NHL debut the same night against the Avalanche. During his first bout of
pro action, he recorded his first NHL point, an assist on a goal by Beauchemin.
After playing one game, Bozak returned to the Marlies on October 15. He was
called up by the Leafs again on January 12. Two days later the young 23
year-old scored his first NHL goal against Philly.
Despite setbacks like an assignment to the AHL’s Toronto
Marlies, an ankle injury, and even a bout with swine flu, Bozak emerged as a
near point-per-game player finishing the season with the team and 27 points in
37 games. He brings speed, NHL-caliber playmaking ability and a hockey
smartness that only a few players possess.
I predict that young talents like Bozak will help the Leafs
be in contention for a playoff berth for the first time in six years, finishing
anywhere from 5th-8th in 2010-11. Look for the young center to improve on his
eight goals and 19 assists next season as well.