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Bozak Off To Good Start At Training Camp

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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Stars realign, of course. Maybe after an indifferent season, this year’s predictions will be recycled for Tyler Bozak.

But if you ask him, the 24-year-old Bozak will be glad to oblige: yes, this is his time.

Bozak, Phil Kessel, Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and Josh Nicholls scored as the Leafs served up a robust first scrimmage at the MasterCard Centre.

There is optimism about the Leafs. After a five-year-hiatus out of the playoffs, this is the brightest things have looked for a while.

Dion Phaneuf has been imported to wear the C and command the blue line. Goalies J.S. Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson could disappoint and still offer more than Vesa Toskala. Bozak’s linemates on the first unit looked excellent. Phil Kessel is coming off a 30-goal season and speedy Nikolai Kulemin turned in 16 goals as well as ample evidence that he could be among the Leafs’ best two-way players. Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong give the club two more legitimate NHL forwards.

The biggest need: a workhorse first-line centre with the touch to keep Kessel well fed and the instincts to maximize Kulemin’s burgeoning game.

Look around. All you have is Tyler Bozak.

"It's perfect. I’m happy I picked Toronto. I’m happy I am here,” he said. “The trades we made and the guys we picked up are great guys. Making Dion captain was huge for us. Everyone is looking forward to see what we can do. So are we. We are really confident.”

Signed as a free agent out of the University of Denver, Bozak saw his 2009-2010 campaign limited to 37 games because of illness and a demotion to the Marlies. He played well when promoted, recording 27 points and eight goals in just 37 games but as the season wore on Bozak wore down. He had only one goal and 14 shots in his last 10 games. Kessel, not coincidentally had just two goals and four points in the same stretch.

“It’s tough. I got hurt the year before and played 19 games and the year before that played 35,” Bozak said. “It happens to a lot of young guys. I was really tired by the end. I worked hard in the summer to be better.”

He knows people looking down the depth chart will find a question mark in the middle, especially the number one centre spot.

“People look at the lineup. They probably don’t know much about me. They saw a little glimpse and it’s hard to tell. “

Not for much longer.

The camp’s first day brought a newer, faster Grabovski. The Belerusarian blasted the winning goal in a shootout and impressed coach Ron Wilson. “He wants to prove that he can do better than last year,” Wilson said. Last season was a poor one for Grabovski who lost 23 games to a wrist injury and finished with only 10 goals. The first fight of the pre-season saw Mike Liambas slug it out with Jay Rosehill after Rosehill knocked defenceman Carl Gunnarsson into the boards from behind.

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