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Leafs Hope Bozak Helps Kessel Snap Goalless Skid

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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The future is expected to arrive any minute.

Tyler Bozak, predicted as the centre of choice once the Leafs acquired Phil Kessel  in September, is the hands-down choice to join the Leafs in time for Tuesday’s date with the Carolina Hurricanes.

After a dreadful start that included a bout with the H1N1, Bozak returned to the lineup 15 games ago and has scored two goals and added eight assists in 15 games.

Signed as a free agent out of the University of Denver last spring, Bozak has the exact skill set the Leafs are crying for. He is a instinctive playmaker with excellent speed who, at least at the college level was adroit in the face-off circle. He was also an excellent penalty killer.

Mostly, the Leafs hope that Bozak can light a fire under Kessel. After a torrid start, Kessel has scored just once in the last dozen games.

Media members noticed Rickard Wallin working with Kessel and dug into a story in which the team’s most valuable player would be fed by a player with zero goals this season.

“It’s going to change, tomorrow, Wallin won’t be playing with Kessel tomorrow,” Wilson said. “Maybe we’re bringing a guy in whose not here today so we practice with him.”

Bozak’s game has rounded nicely into shape after his illness and a little time to adjust to professional hockey.

“It hasn't been an ideal year for him but hopefully he can take advantage whenever we call him up,” Wilson said of Bozak. “We'll give him an opportunity to show us what he can do. He's not a fourth-line guy so if or when we do bring him up, we'll give him quality ice time and play him with good players,” Wilson said.

The Leafs coach hinted that the reason the Leafs haven’t been able to find the right combination is because the right player has to feed Kessel without deferring to him.

Sometimes guys you have used are totally out of sorts when they view themselves in a pressure situation,” Wilson said. “(They think) I have to feed the puck and nothing happens.

For his part, Kessel said he understands there might be a kaleidoscope of centres until the right combination is found,

“If you’re not going you have to change things up,” said. “Everyone’s trying to win games but we have to get better.

Injuries to Mikhail Grabovski and Wayne Primeau have emaciated the Leafs down the middle and hastened the call for Bozak.  Likewise on the blue line where Mike Komisarek has missed four games with the ubiquitous upper body injury. That means an opening for Carl Gunnarsson.

The 23-year-old Swede has no goals in eight games and was suffered a hyper-extended elbow Nov. 30 against Buffalo.

“It’s been six weeks. It’s healed pretty well,” Gunnarsson said. “ It was painful. I wouldn’t want to do that again.”

Wilson said he would reach Gunnarson sooner rather than later.

“Maybe he will play tomorrow night. I don’t think so but I’m expecting to see him by Thursday.

“He’s very mobile. He was getting to pucks first. There are a lot of little things in his game. He’s not a sensational player in that he won’t go end to end but he makes good first passes and defends very well.”
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