A lot has been written about Tyler Bozak this year. Some people think that he's a 1C and some people think that he's a 4C. It's very easy to argue that he falls somewhere in that range, but where? Generally speaking, a player can contribute to his club in three ways - scoring, possession and special teams, to a lesser degree.
It's been pointed out approximately ten billion times that Bozak has an inflated SH%. And he does. He's shooting 23.1% and has a career SH% of 16.5 - a 40% increase. But what about his assists? We aren't sure what percentage of shots he has a potential assist on go in, but we do know his on-ice SH% (11.9%), which can be used as a crude proxy. For reference, Stamkos leads the league with just over 15%, Bozak is 10th, JVR is 68th with 10%, and Kessel is 80th with 9.84%. Last year, Kessel/Bozak/JVR were 70th/77th/90th with 10.5%/10.4%/10.3%.
It's certainly possible that the trio are still getting lucky, but after 108 games, that's becoming more unlikely. The high number of 2 on 1s and low number of shots from sustained pressure might inflate the entire teams on-ice SH%. Last season, Cam Charron had data on scoring chances after 36 games. At that stage, the Leafs possession was around 42-43% and the scoring chances were at 47-48%. Again, it's possible that some luck and a small sample of games led to a significant gap between the two metrics. And it's also possible that the Leafs depend on the rush for their offense, where expected SH% are higher.
If we assume that 10% is a repeatable on-ice SH% for the top line, we can regress Bozak's point totals to something more sustainable. If he has 32 points with his team shooting at 12%, then he would have 27 points with an on-ice SH% of 10%. Twenty-seven points in 36 games would be a PPG of .75, which falls at the low end of the 1C range. This regression would account for his goals and assists.
In terms of possession, he certainly isn't anything special. This year, Bozak has a CF% of 43.8%, 11th/24 on the Leafs. Kessel and JVR have 45.5% and 44.9%. Interestingly, both Kessel's and JVR's possession goes up to 46% and 46.2% when they play with Bozak. On the other hand, Bozak's possession totally collapses when he's away from his linemates - 27.1% when away from Kessel and 34.1% when away from JVR. It's possible that Bozak's heavier ZS% and more defensive situations explain the gap (Bozak starts 39.5% of shifts in the DZ, Kessel 37.9%, JVR 34.3%; Bozak leads the Leafs in CorsiRelQoC and is 19th in the league) and when the trio is together, they get easier starts and competition, thereby increasing their possession.
However, I was shocked to learn that Bozak is actually third on the team in SF% with 45.7%, right behind Kessel (46.3%) and just ahead of JVR (45.5%). Their FF% reflects their CF%, in that Kessel (44.3%, 4th/24) and JVR (43.9%, 7th/24) are ahead of Bozak (42.8%, 12th/24). This means that while Bozak is on the ice for a lesser ratio of shots + missed shots + blocked shots, he is on the ice for a near identical ratio of just shots. In other words, he might be an inferior possession player, but the gap between him and his linemates is almost entirely made up of by lower quality chances (missed shots + blocked shots). He does okay where it counts - shots.
On special teams, he's slightly above-average on the PP and terrible on the PK. Where anyone ever got the idea that Bozak was an effective penalty killer is beyond me. He's dead last on the team in CA20 this year and was only ahead of noted playoff fuck-up Ryan O'Byrne last season. On the PP, he's 6th out of 16 in terms of CF20 and GF20. Not exactly a game breaker, but certainly competent.
At 4.2M, he's being paid like a 2C/3C. It's clear that he isn't capable of playing reliable defense - he's on the ice for more corsi events against than any other player (JVR is second last, Kessel is fifth last) and he has the PK effectiveness of rumham. But he's contributing offense at a 1C clip, even after his high on-ice SH% is taken into account, and he's able to create enough offense with Kessel and JVR that they end up being the most effective possession line on the team.
I don't believe Bozak is a 1C and his playing on the top line significantly hurts the Leafs' chances of seriously competing for a Cup. But this season, Bozak has been a 60 point center who hasn't held his linemates back in terms of goalscoring or possession. He is an example of what is wrong with this team - players are being forced to play higher in the lineup than they should be. But with a salary of 4.2M, he could be a competent 2C and a good 3C.