TORONTO - If centre Tyler Bozak falls all the way to the third line for opening night, coach Ron Wilson thinks it won’t be a hard landing.
Bozak gave his best last season, but was not the catalyst for team leading scorer Phil Kessel to get beyond 32 goals in 82 games. Bozak, meanwhile, had just 32 points in all and was an ugly minus-29 to boot. General manager Brian Burke admitted at season’s end that he was a square peg in a round hole and put his money on Tim Connolly this year. With Mikhail Grabovski holding firm to the second-line role, Bozak will get new partners this year.
“I always thought he played better in the times we experimented with other people besides Phil,” said Wilson, hoping to pump Bozak’s tires back up. “He would often be a little bit more relaxed.”
Bozak faced some tough forechecking while on the premier line, but with Colby Armstrong projected as third line right wing, te 6-foot-1 Bozak will be in position to give as well as reecive. Who ends up on left wing for that line is the big question as this camp. Wilson sees either incumbent Nazem Kadri, one of the rookies or an another interesting scenario he suggested on Friday.
“If Matthew Lombardi is ready, he could also be the left winger,” Wilson said of the new centre, currently getting final clearance from a bad concussion last year.
“If he gets healthy and gets permisison to play exhibition games or the start of the season, I’d like to integrate him slowly, so he could very easily be the left winger on that line.”
If Bozak can get over being separated from his off-ice buddy Kessel, the latter should be able to work with NHL veteran Connolly.
“Phil has always shown that it doesn’t matter who he’s playing with, he’s going to get his looks and opportunities,” Wilson said. “Tim has the ability to control pucks down low and make those types of plays. I think Connolly, (Joffrey) Lupul and Kessel are going to be an excellent line.”