A long, long, long (long) time ago, the Leafs signed Tyler Bozak. Since then, we've all forgotten the coup that signing was. Names like Kadri and Gustavsson have supplanted Bozak. Signings like Beauchemin and Komisarek have added to the distraction.
Let's take a step back to April 4th of this year when it was announced that Tyler Bozak had chosen the Leafs. Toronto had long since been eliminated from the playoffs and his signing was a look towards the future. For the first time since the lock out, it seemed, the Leafs had won a bidding war for a highly sought after prospect.
The questions that surrounded Bozak then, still surround him now. How good is he? What is his projected ceiling as an NHL player? How does he get his hair to look like that? Why was he passed over in the draft? What does he bring to the Leafs? Is the knee fully healed? Can he hold up to bigger and stronger competition? Seriously, what is with that glorious hockey hair?
Starting with his collegiate years, Bozak and his family showed a faith in his abilities even when others didn't see it. Mike Chambers of the Denver Post writes:
Bozak joined DU as a 21-year-old freshman a year ago, weighing just 160 pounds. His lack of bulk is mainly why he began college late, a decision supported by his father, Mitch, a former hockey coach. The Bozaks were willing to wait for better collegiate offers, turning down lower-level programs before DU, known as an NHL breeding ground, showed interest.
So, like lots of college aged kids, Tyler took some time off before starting school. Unlike those kids, Tyler didn't schlep around Europe or live in his parents basement playing video games. No, Tyler went on a tear in the BCHL posting a 128 point season, of which 82 were assists, and he did it all over 59 games.
By the time Bozak made it to DU the points were still coming. In his first season, Bozak put up 34 points in 41 games. He was only the third freshman since DU's 86-87 season to lead the team in points. The first was Dave Sheilds back in 86-87. The second is current Canadiens prospect Brock Trotter. From the read on these two players, Bozak is leaps and bounds ahead of them. Or, to give you another prespective, Trotter is currently ranked 17th in the list of Habs prospects, Bozak is ranked 4th for the Leafs.
Possibly the biggest story so far for Bozak is his injury. Of all the things I've heard about him so far, the fact that he missed most of this past season with DU due to a knee injury is the one most repeated. Read this great summary from Michael Traikos of the National Post to get the skinny:
An opponent stuck out his leg and tripped the Regina native. No penalty was called. So the fuming forward scraped himself off the ice and took it upon himself to seek vigilante justice.
The hit that followed tore Bozak's meniscus, ended his season and after some surgical repairs, three months of re-hab followed. However, instead of taking it easy, Bozak returned to the ice, ahead of schedule, in an attempt to help push his team through the playoffs. In the win-or-go-home game, Bozak was a part of both goals by DU, with a goal and an assist. Unfortunately for Bozak and DU, Miami of Ohio scored 4, ending the season, and Tyler's collegiate career.
Then, on April 4th, after being recruited by approximately 25 NHL teams, including all 6 Canadian clubs, Bozak signed with the Leafs. As we all know, he missed the end of the regular season, allowing his knee to fully heal. Tyler also took full advantage of the Leafs training and weight rooms. By adhering to Coach Ron Wilson's fitness regimen he has added 20 lbs of muscle to his frame allowing him to enter camp at 6' and 195 lbs.
Since the pre-season began we've been able to see why this center was so hotly pursued. He's played an intelligent two-way game, putting in points and back checking with equal amounts of enthusiasm. We've also seen the rookie in him creep up as simple mistakes have been made. However, as the preseason has progressed so has Bozak. Learning from his mistakes, Tyler's not just making himself look good in a Leafs uniform, he's making Brian Burke look that much better for signing him in the process.
Tyler's still no lock to make the team come opening night, but it certainly won't be for lack of trying. Currently ranked fourth on Hockey's Future Leaf's prospect rankings, Tyler Bozak seems bound and determined that come next September, the term prospect will no longer apply to him.
Speaking of Let's Go DU, dggoddard (who helped me out with the other DU names at the beginning of this article) pointed me in the direction of the highlight vid below. In our email exchange, he added "He's a great player. Loved to watch him play for DU and will watch him on the Maple Leafs for sure."
Tyler Bozak - The 7th Samurai (via OsakaPuck)