College free agents historically have flopped more than they’ve thrived at the NHL level, but a lot of scouts are predicting big things for Tyler Bozak, the newest member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While Christian Hanson will give the Leafs some depth and Boston University defenseman Matt Gilroy will almost certainly be able to step in immediately once he signs with an NHL team in a couple of weeks, a good number of scouts think Bozak will ultimately be the best player.
“I have no doubts about this guy, none whatsoever,” one scout said. “It’s a hell of a signing by the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
“Bozak, hands-down,” said another scout when asked which of Hanson, Gilroy or Bozak will ultimately be the best NHLer. “He’s a very smart player, has great hockey sense and he’s a right-shot center and every team is looking for that.”
Kind of makes you wonder how 30 teams passed on him in the draft. Part of the reason was when he was playing in the heavily scouted B.C. Junior League, he was about 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds. Now he’s 6 feet and 180 pounds.
The scouting reports on Bozak were far less than complimentary during his first two years in the BCHL. But then he played as an overage player in the league in 2006-07 and had 45 goals and 128 points. All the scouts in the league would have seen him that season because he was playing with Jamie Benn, who was chosen by the Dallas Stars that summer.
The only issue was Bozak had already passed his eligibility to be drafted and any team wanting him would have had to sign him as a free agent.
“That’s the problem,” a scout said. “You don’t sign free agents to NHL contracts coming out of the B.C. Junior League, but maybe we have to start looking into that.”
As for Gilroy, no team will be able to sign him until after the Frozen Four finishes next weekend, but it’s believed the Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks are the frontrunners in the Gilroy sweepstakes.
Any team wanting Gilroy will not only have to give him an opportunity to play right away, but will need the cap space to make it work. Because Gilroy is 24 years old, he’s not subject to the entry level salary stipulations, meaning he can sign for as much as one team is willing to pay him. That amount is believed to be somewhere in the $3 million range. And one sticking issue is it’s believed Gilroy would like the bulk of it in signing bonus.
“The money is just ridiculous,” one scout said.
Any team signing Gilroy to that kind of deal does so knowing there are risks involved. Gilroy has excellent offensive instincts, but many scouts are worried about his play in his own zone. And they need look no further than Fabian Brunnstrom to realize the jump to the NHL can often be a long and painful one, regardless of a player’s talent level.
Going into the Frozen Four, Gilroy has 36 points in 43 games, but he’s a mature player playing on a powerhouse team that often feeds on inferior opposition.
(On a personal note, I’ve watched four BU games on television this season and to these eyes, Terriers defenseman and Colorado Avalanche draft pick Kevin Shattenkirk will be by far the better NHL player. Lots of NHL scouts agree with that assessment.)
And one thing that really hasn’t been publicly discussed is the fact that Gilroy is older than Mike Green, Dion Phaneuf, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Kyle Quincey, Tobias Enstrom, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Alexander Edler and Kris Letang. Consider what those players would be doing if they were in the same situation as Gilroy.
“The problem is there’s only one ring under that glass and everybody wants it,” one scout said of Gilroy’s unrestricted free agent status. “You don’t want somebody else to get it because it might turn out to be very valuable someday.”
TORONTO, MEET TYLER
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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