Bona Fide Bozak

(Photo Credit: Associated Press)

For Tyler Bozak, a lifelong Toronto Maple Leaf, a change of scenery and a place to settle down with his young family was a must. After spending nine years playing alongside the likes of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri, Bozak found a new home in St. Louis, where in the upcoming 2018-2019 season, he’ll contribute most likely as the third-line centerman. He will have a chance to forge a new path for the newest chapter in his life, and add to the depth in scoring that St. Louis was in desperate need of last season.

But who is Bozak? Besides his centerman status and knowing last year’s stats, what does Bozak bring to the table?

Simple answer: a lot.

LATE UPRISING

Bozak, 32, began his hockey career in Junior A, with the Victoria Salsa in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), in 2004-2005. He was 17. Bozak played 55 games, and recorded 15 goals, 16 points, for 31 points. In 2005-2006, he played 56 games, and recorded 31 goals, 38 assists, for 69 points. After transitioning to the Victoria Grizzlies, to date, he still holds fourth place on the league’s all-time points per season list (128 in 2006-2007), and fifth place in assists per season (83 in 2006-2007). He notoriously won the BCHL Top Scorer Trophy, also known as the Brett Hull Trophy, that year. After the 2006-2007 season, Bozak opted to attend the University of Denver, where in 2007-2008, he played 41 games, and recorded 18 goals, 16 assists, and a total of 34 points. The same year, he was named to the NCAA All-Rookie Team, was an NCAA Ice Hockey Champion, and was selected for the NCAA Third All-Star Team. In 2008-2009, he only played 19 games due to a torn meniscus, but recorded 23 points, and was named to the NCAA All-Academic Team.

Bozak signed with the Leafs while in college, on April 3, 2009. He did not play with the Leafs until 2009-2010, when he played in 37 games, and recorded 8 goals, 19 assists, for 27 points. His first game, on October 13, 2009, was against the Colorado Avalanche, and future teammate Ryan O’Reilly. Bozak also spent 32 games in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies, and recorded 4 goals, 16 assists, for 20 points.

Career in total for the Leafs, he played in 594 games, tallied 136 goals, 229 assists, for 365 points, in 9 seasons. He took only 182 penalty minutes (an average of 0.306 per game), in 10,924 minutes of playing time. He was also an alternate captain for his last three years.

STATISTICAL STRENGTHS

What makes Bozak such an asset to the Blues? Why lure him here and sign him to a 3-year, $5 million per year contract?

Keyword: reliability. Let’s look at some key points as to why Bozak is a benefit.

The first is his games played, point production and ice time. From the past 9 seasons with the Leafs, 5 of those years were seasons where he recorded 70 games or more. The Blues are expecting to have Bozak firing on all cylinders, and he will be: he’s used to a long season, with barely any breaks. In addition, 5 seasons recorded him having 40 points or more. In comparison, Kyle Brodziak, last year’s third line center, played 9 seasons of 70 or more games with the Blues, Edmonton and Minnesota; only once did he reach 40 points or more. Bozak’s career began with an average of 19:14 minutes of ice time per game, down to an average of 15:39 minutes of ice time per game last year. His highest amount is an average of 20:57 minutes of ice time per game. For all of his seasons combined, he has logged an average of 18:23 minutes of ice time per game. Average ice time for a third line centerman is approximately 13-14 minutes of ice time per game, which is right in Bozak’s wheel house from last year. In fact, he’s used to playing a little bit more than that, and can, logically, play around a first or second line center’s minutes if need be, in the event of an injury.

Secondly, he’s a gentleman, but he does provide a physical element to his game. Bozak is not a player who takes many penalty minutes, as stated above. However, he does know that penalties have their place, and will support his teammates by taking them when needed. In comparison, his projected first line counterpart, Brayden Schenn, has taken 273 PIM’s, and his projected second line counterpart, Ryan O’Reilly, has taken 84. Bozak’s total PIM’s of 182 is almost exactly in the middle (178.5 minutes), and he has the same amount of experience (9 years) as they do.

Third, faceoffs and shooting percentage. In the playoffs last year, Bozak’s faceoff percentage was 57%. His seasonal faceoff percentage has dipped lower than 50% only once since turning pro (that was in 2013-2014, at 48.7%, and was his lowest to date), which is a significant increase from Patrik Berglund’s numbers. In 10 seasons, Berglund only attained above a 50% in each of his last three seasons with the Blues (his lowest was 39.8% his first year). Bozak’s shooting percentage has been above a 12% in 8 out of 9 seasons, including during 2013-2014, where it reached 21.1% on 159 shots attempted, and after playing 1215 minutes. The highest recorded shooting percentage for Vladimir Tarasenko was 15.4% on 276 shots attempted, in 2013-2014, when he played 971 minutes. Bozak had more time to make attempts, made less attempts, but was more accurate than Tarasenko, with the shots he made.

Next, his Corsi For% (CORSI%) and his Fenwick For at Even Strength% (FF). For the past three seasons, his CORSI% at even strength has not dipped lower than 50%, meaning his team possesses the puck more when he is on the ice. His FF at Even Strength% also has not dipped lower than 50% in the last three seasons.

Here’s where things get a bit interesting: his Team On-Ice Save Percentage at Even Strength (oiSV%), and his Zone Starts at Even Strength (oZS% for Offensive Zone). The term oiSV% is described as the success rate for the team’s save percentage when Bozak is on the ice, meaning how effectively the team, as a whole, blocks shots and prevents the other team from scoring by providing good defense. Luck does play a factor in this category, but Bozak also soars in it. Since the beginning of his career, he has helped his team and his goaltender out by recording an oiSV% of no less than 89.1%. Last year alone was 93.3%. On the top line of the Blues for the 2017-2018 season, Schwartz had a 90.9%, Schenn had a 90.7%, and Tarasenko had a 91.7%. This means Bozak beat them all in bailing out his goalie, and helping his teammates play better in front of a goalie. Lastly, Bozak’s offensive zone starts dipped in his middle years, but within the last four, he has not recorded a total of less than 49.2%. Last year’s total was 57.2%, meaning more than half the time, his team took faceoffs in the offensive zone. More offensive zone time means more opportunities for goals and assists for his team.

BONA FIDE BOZAK

Taking into account his stats, they give a very clear picture of the kind of player Bozak is: he’s a smart two way forward, who plays great defense in front of his goalie when he has to, but most times, he doesn’t need to: half of the time he is on the ice, the puck is in the offensive zone, where he can easily pick up a point or two. He takes enough penalties to “take care of business”, but does not land in the sin bin often. His faceoff percentage is a badly-needed boon, and he has the capability to play as many or as few minutes as needed. Bozak is a veteran presence, a proven leader, and a fine centerman to have on the team. With a new team, a new city, a new outlook, Bozak deserves the chance to change his fate, and see a Cup in his future with the Blues. We’re lucky to have him, and the skills he possesses.

(Sources: NHL.com, Cap-Friendly.com, Hockey-Reference.com)

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