via cdn2.sbnation.com (Chris O'Meara - AP)
In his rookie season in Blue and White, Bozak centered a line between Kulemin and Kessel that created a lot of offense and provided the Leafs hope for the future. During the following summer when Leafs fans were hoping Burke would acquire a number 1C, many around PPP would be quick to point out, that we kind of already had one, because Bozak's first year production prorated to roughly 60 points. Needless to say in the following year (last year), he brought expectations back to earth with 32 points while playing first line minutes, thus producing a terrible points/minute. Many fans and analysts decided that he was just a 3rd line C who was forced above his role and couldn't produce there. While I definitely fell into this pool, I did notice an odd comparable in the middle of last season. About a decade ago, there was another college UFA C signing who took a few years to develop in the NHL and eventually became the first line center of a Brian Burke, cup winning, NHL team. That man is Andy McDonald.
Read on for a comparison of Bozak and McDonald.
*Note: All statistics taken from www.hockey-reference.com
First off I will present their pre-NHL production:
Here are their totals and points per game in each league:
(For ease of comparison I collected all of their various junior leagues into one "junior" category. Please note however, that the leagues they played in were not all equal and were below CHL (WHL, OHL, QMJHL) hockey).
Finally here is a direct comparison of their points per game (it is McDonald minus Bozak, so a positive means McDonald is better and a negative means Bozak is better):
Looking at the comparisons I noticed 2 things: (1) McDonald was better at every level. He was better in junior at a younger age; better in college which included two years at a younger age than Bozak; and better in the AHL, although Bozak didn't spend much time there. One thing to note however, is that Bozak was identified by many as a late bloomer largely due to a late growth spurt. While Bozak is now typical NHL size at 6'1", 195 lbs, he apparently was much smaller in his junior days. (2) The second thing that sticks out to me, is that McDonald's production was recognized by American hockey minds, as he played on the American World Championships team in 2001-2002 (the end of his second year of professional hockey). So in summary, McDonald took a pretty similar route to the NHL as Bozak, but was consistently better than him at every step (though often not by that much).
Now comes the important question: how have they performed in the NHL? Conveniently both of their rookie seasons were at the same age (*note while it could be argued that McDonald's second season was his rookie season as he played less than 25 GP in his first season; for the sake of this analysis I am considering his first season as his rookie season). The following chart shows their production in their first 3 years in the NHL (from 23-25):
Here is a direct comparison of their per game stats in those 3 seasons:
Finally Bozak is looking pretty good. Bozak has done better in every category except for assists and points per game in his second year (the year that was identified as his off year). In his other 2 partial seasons (and in goals the second season), Bozak has out performed McDonald.
Having looked at their preNHL and early NHL careers I think its safe to say that McDonald is a reasonable comparable to Bozak, so here is the exciting part: what does that mean? Well fortunately, McDonald's early career happened a while ago and I can show you how he has done through the rest of his prime and his early 30s:
Wow, who would have seen that coming? After one more slow season he turned into a first line hockey player, who is admittedly, pretty inconsistent. Over the following 8 seasons he cracked 75 points twice and was point per game once. While he has had repeated injury problems throughout his career, he hasn't been below 0.63 PPG since he was 26, peaking at 1.04 PPG at 28.
Now someone may ask: "Who were his linemates in his 2 great years at 28 and 29?" They would be Chris Kunitz and Teemu Selanne. While few players can compare to the Finnish Flash, Chris Kunitz is a solid, but not spectacular player and likely the worst of 3 guys on that line. Through his career he appears to be a 20-25 goal 50-60 point guy. Or in other words a complimentary first liner, or good second liner. What does this mean for the Leafs? While Selanne is clearly better than any current Leaf, the combination of Selanne+Kunitz is comparable to Lupul+Kessel in offensive ability if not overall game. While the two Leafs may not be as good as the 2 Ducks (because when Selanne is on one side its so hard to compare), I think its fair to say that they are reasonably similar. Can they be the players to bring Bozak to the next level?
Having presented this analysis to you, I hope to have shown you what could happen to Bozak if all goes perfectly. If his game continues to develop a tad later than most (most players peak at 25 he would be peaking around 25-27), develops to a higher ceiling than expected, and he finds chemistry with 2 great linemates; he could potentially turn into the next "Andy McDonald". All that being said, this is an incredibly unlikely outcome. For every Andy McDonald out there, I am sure people could find a dozen comparables who turned into third liners or busted out of the league.
Lets now hear your thoughts: