Tyler Bozak is the straw that stirs the drink for these Toronto Maple Leafs apparently. Of the current Maple Leafs, Bozak has centred Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin, Viktor Stålberg, Christian Hanson, and Luca Caputi at various points, mainly in the past 16 games.
For a 14 game stretch from the trading deadline until two games ago against Atlanta, he was mainly on the ice between Kulemin and Kessel, and he's posted 16 points with those two wingers so far this year, playing very productive hockey all around.
Unfortunately that may have resulted in a situation of putting all of the team's eggs in one basket to some extent. Viktor Stålberg floundered a bit as a 2nd and 3rd line winger, playing with players he wasn't entirely comfortable with, in a role he wasn't entirely comfortable with. Stålberg's speed and shot were evident, but he was mainly getting chances on one off rushes, doing most of the work himself, and rarely setting up for consistent chances in the offensive zone.
Mikhail Grabovski also has spent much of this season playing with relatively unfamiliar line mates. He synced up well with Niklas Hagman prior to the Olympics, recording 17 points in various situations alongside the departed Finn. Since his departure though, Grabovski has played mainly with Stålberg and Caputi as his wingers, while occasionally playing wonderful 4 on 4 hockey alongside Kulemin.
Based on the logic that Phil Kessel will score his goals no matter who he's playing with (while not entirely accurate, he'll probably be a threat either way), it made some sense for Wilson to tinker with his lines prior to the end of this year, to see if there was a way of balancing the attack a bit more.
Tapping in to some obvious comfort zones, Wilson moved Grabovski up between Kulemin and Kessel, hoping the two eastern bloc players would key off each other and open up even more ice for Kessel. He also reunited the frat pack line from training camp, giving Christian Hanson a top 6 opportunity as a developing power forward, and hoping to enhance the comfort of Stålberg alongside his roommate, the skilled Bozak.
So far the mini-experiment may be paying some dividends. Stålberg has 3 goals in his past two games, and is a +2. Bozak has picked up another two assists and is also +2. Hanson has yet to register a point, but has looked more dangerous offensively. Overall though the line has not lit the world on fire quite yet.
On the other line, Grabovski and Kulemin haven't particularly clicked with Kessel yet, but the chances are still there, the trio just need to pot a goal to get the ball rolling. Unfortunately there is a chance that Kessel and Kulemin's production will tail off with the departure of Bozak, and it may be increasingly obvious that Bozak is the key to most of the team's current offensive output.
Bozak has recorded 15 points in his last 16 games, and has 26 points in his first 33 career NHL games. Spread over the entire season, the total pace would put him at 65 points in an 82 game schedule. Even more impressive, his post deadline production rate would put him at 77 points over a full schedule. Not too shabby for an NHL rookie.
His 0.79 ppg scoring rate is the highest amongst NHL rookies who have played over 30 games. Next closest are Matt Duchene at 0.70 ppg, and John Tavares at 0.61. Admittedly Bozak is 23 years old while Duchene and Tavares are both 19, but Bozak still has some room to put on size in the off season and could quite conceivably improve on his numbers from this season.
His assists per game rate of 0.55 apg is also best amongst NHL rookies with at least 30 games, and of course it helps to have Phil Kessel potting goals on his wing. It also helps that his shooting percentage is highest amongst rookies with 30 games played at 17.8%.
Suffice it to say, Tyler Bozak is showing himself to be the best college free agent available last season as advertised, and it will be interesting to see his development in coming seasons.