To say Tim Bozon had a bit of a tumultuous, challenging year would pretty much render using those words meaningless to most that have had tumultuous, challenging years in the past. Since we ranked him at eleventh 12 months ago, Tim has been a surprisingly early cut from Canadiens training camp, gotten off to a very slow start to his WHL season, was traded for the first time in his professional year, and just as everything had finally started going his way on the ice, he suddenly was hospitalized with Neisseria Meningitis and was battling for his life.
The details of his illness are fairly well known, after playing a late season regular season game in Saskatoon in which he scored and recorded seven shot attempts, Bozon got incredibly ill, disoriented and was admitted to the emergency department of Royal University Hospital at the University of Saskatchewan. Upon diagnosis, he was induced and put into a coma for several days. When he was awoken, he had lost a lot of weight, appeared pale and fragile. He was released after a trying four weeks, including celebrating his 20th birthday on his hospital bed, having escaped a battle for his life alive.
By June, he was skating again.
This past couple of weeks, he was playing competitive games for France's U23 team. He's expected to report to the Canadiens' training camp on time and potentially in game shape. It's been a remarkable return for Bozon, but it can't be easy for him to try and start his professional career after just going through all of this. The good thing is, he's going to get a chance to do just that.
So, let's get to evaluating Tim Bozon, the prospective Montreal Canadiens' left wing.
I've been Tim Bozon's biggest booster since his draft day amongst the panel, but I can't exactly say that this time around, as new panelist Justin Blades had him ranked ninth, three spots ahead of my 12th place vote which was the second-highest. Due to the uncertain nature of Bozon's recovery, I adjusted him a little below some of the similarly-talented players for the first time. However, I'm still a big believer in his talent translating to the NHL. All of the other panelists had him ranked in the teens, and he finished comfortably ahead of Greg Pateryn to slot 15th. This was a drop of four spots from a year ago, but only one spot from the mid-term ranking. Indeed, his slow start might be more of a factor in his drop than lingering concerns about his recovery.
Tim Bozon is an excellent skater. His top speed is impressive, and allows him to get open and push defenders back, creating more space to mount an offensive attack. But what's more impressive about Bozon than just his top speed, is his ability to handle the puck at a top speed. He can keep up with his own tempo and make plays, beat defenders, cut across the middle of the ice without losing his stride. When the puck hits his stick, he receives it without slowing down, always making plays in motion.
The real benefit of Bozon's speed, though, is his ability to finish. He's creative with the puck, and will score goals off of dekes, snap shots, high hard wristers, and driving the net to collect his own rebound. While he is adept at passing the puck, he's definitely more of a finisher. He finished his WHL career with over 100 regular season goals in just three seasons, cracking 30 goals every year. When he gets in the offensive zone, facing the net, he is looking to shoot the puck first, and with his hands and quick feet, is hard to stop from doing so.
Another under-appreciated element of Bozon's offensive zone game is his work on the cycle. He has excellent puck protection skills along the boards, using his frame in a strong stance to keep the puck away from the defenders on his back. He's also quite adaptable on the power play, as I've seen him both line up as a centre taking draws and playing the high faceoff circle position in an umbrella formation.
Bozon isn't a very adept defender. He's very reliant on his centre to turn the puck over and break the puck out the zone, and as a result he might not project as well from a shot differential point of view. I view him as a more complimentary piece on his line, a dangerous skilled winger who works best with a more responsible centre. He isn't the ideal forward to have out protecting a late lead or lining up for too many defensive zone draws. In his rookie season in Kamloops, he lined up primarily as an player getting a strong majority of offensive zone faceoffs.
With his speed, he is able to help out a bit on the backcheck but he has yet to develop a strong ability to cause neutral zone turnovers to key a counter-attack. He has a modest physical game as well, in which he's much more likely to receive hits than dish them out.
And obviously, the x-factor with Bozon is how he handles the rigors of professional hockey while continuing to overcome his illness. While all the indicators so far is that he's making a complete recovery, the specific demands of pursuing a professional hockey career after having contracted this form of bacterial meningitis might be more difficult than we're used to seeing. While a majority of survivors make a full and complete recovery, about a quarter of them experience a decrease in their quality of life. We're definitely hopeful that Tim will be able to pursue his dreams without any permanent obstacles as a result of contracting this disease.
Overall, while Bozon's WHL career was impressive, it wasn't quite at the level of prolific goal-scoring we saw from Charles Hudon, Sven Andrighetto, Christian Thomas, and definitely not Brendan Gallagher, but it was comparable to Michael Bournival, Louis Leblanc and well ahead of Patrick Holland. He was finishing strong and unfortunately that got cut off; when you consider his early season struggles, he likely underachieved in his goal totals. That means he was always destined for the AHL to start his professional career, where we'll see if his unique skill set leads to a better transition of his goal scoring ability than the average player.
Bozon will likely start his career on the Bulldogs' third line, as the team tries to incorporate a lot of new talent entering the system. His speed and shot make him a threat to making the NHL initially in a soft-minutes-type role. I feel he could serve a purpose in the NHL in a similar vein to Andrei Kostitsyn or Michael Ryder, a goal scoring creative winger who gets helped out by defensively adept centres. His high-end seems to be that of a second line winger, but anywhere in the middle-six of the lineup would have to be considered a real success for the team and player. How quickly he adjusts to the AHL will help tell the tale for his future with the team.