Bozak to centre Kessel?

LANCE HORNBY. QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:49 PM ET

Throughout the hot summer, a hot topic in Leaf Nation was Phil Kessel's centre on the first line.

But there's no question in Kessel's mind who he thinks would get the job under the present setup, with no big name secured since the Leafs skated off the ice April 10 in Montreal.

"Obviously, I think Tyler Bozak is the No. 1 guy," Toronto's top scorer said Monday at the MasterCard Centre after an informal workout. "He's the No. 1 guy we have. You never know what can happen at camp, there can be trades and that, but right now, he's the man."

Kessel is biased because he's a good friend of Bozak's and the two youngsters are born just a year apart. There's no denying there was some chemistry between them when Bozak wasn't getting over-powered by bigger centres or checking specialists and Kessel was healthy.

If Nazem Kadri doesn't make the big jump and nothing better presents itself before the opening game, coach Ron Wilson will have to take a second look at the Bozak-Kessel first-line combo. The latter had 30 goals last year and should be in the 40 range after missing the first month of last season recovering from shoulder surgery and labouring the last few games of 2009-10 with a rib injury.

It wasn't a tear as the team had feared and Kessel was able to make a full recovery during the summer. Bozak, meanwhile, was sapped early in the year by a flu bug and sputtered in the stretch of his rookie season as the 82-game NHL schedule took a toll. But he has added some weight with an ambitious nutrition and gym routine set up by strength coach Anthony Belza.

"Aw, he's still a shrimp out there," teased Kessel. "But he looks in good shape. I hope I can have a big year, our team has a big year and we can get in the playoffs.

"We were not as bad as we finished. We had a chance there, we just started off badly (one win in 13 games). I think the team is going in the right direction. We've brought in some good players. This year, hopefully, it's different."


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