The #1 Center debate + Bernier buzz
Whether youíre an advanced stats junkie or not, thereís little doubt the Leafsí top line of Lupul-Bozak-Kessel, despite a thrilling offensive season, needs to improve its possession play in even strength situations.
If you are in the former camp, thereís heaps of statistical evidence that Lupul, Bozak and Kessel were effectively neutralizing themselves at even strength with their inability drive possession in a favourable direction; anybody watching closely could tell this was due to a combination of poor defensive play and a lack of offensive zone time due to their reliance on the rush to generate offense.
Despite their numbers across the board Ė one of the most productive lines in hockey offensively Ė a quick look at the trioís goals for and against rate stats reveals they were scoring a lot but being scored on even more at five on five. Only Kessel has a close to even zone shift while Lupul and Bozak are a couple of percentage points in the negative for their zone shift during five-on-five play.
Even accounting for the fact that the Leafs were a poor defensive team throughout starting with their goaltenders, itís still not good enough five on five play from their money line. All three conceded more shots on goal than they mustered for their line, despite Kessel nearly hitting the 300 shot mark, and Lupul and Bozak pumping a shots at a slightly higher rate than the season prior.
In James van Riesmdyk, there isnít a whole lot of evidence the Leafs are making an improvement over Tyler Bozak at the most important forward position on the ice when it comes to possession play.
van Riemsdyk started 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone and finished 52% of them there. Starting 60% in the offensive zone is certainly high and itís tough to keep that number there, but from a possession standpoint I have my doubts heís ready to improve on Bozakís possession/defensive play as of today. His teamís save percentage with him on the ice was an ugly .903%. The Flyers conceded goals at a lower rate with him off the ice than on it and he failed to help outscore the difference.
There are of course a few areas where JvR is an improvement over Bozak which shouldnít go unmentioned. Bozak had noticeably improved his strength in the one on one and board battles last season but he does not have JvRís size nor skill. He gives the line a high skill forward with puck protection ability, and theoretically this could help the line sustain a little more offensive zone time as opposed to having the one good chance and then chasing the puck back the other way.
Most importantly, JvR is young and has the potential to be the dominant first line player Bozak simply wonít ever become. On a developing team this is the best argument for getting JvRís feet wet at the center position. Thought itíd be nice, will it necessarily be at center, and is he ready for a trial by fire at it on the Leafsí top line today? I have my doubts.