No. 1 centre is Leafs priority one – Forget about a goalie, Leafs need to find someone to feed Kessel the puck — and quick
The bottom line is this: Without a front-line centre, Kessel’s talents are being wasted. He was a 37-goal scorer last year but with a bonafide first-line centre, he might be a 50-goal scorer. Further to that, the Leafs will not take the next step in becoming a threat to go deep into the playoffs until they address the first-line centre situation.
Centre should be priority No.1 for the Leafs.
Tyler Bozak is not a first-line centre on a good team. He’s had some success with Kessel and Joffrey Lupul in the past, but he’s more of a second or third line guy. And he would probably thrive in that capacity, just like Mikhail Grabovski is a solid second-line centre. After five games, Bozak has two goals and an assist and is minus-3. So how about this? Until Nonis is able (or willing) to pull the trigger on a deal for a first-line centre, why not move Kadri, who leads the Leafs in scoring with three goals and five points, to the first unit and drop Bozak to the third line? The 22-year-old is clearly coming into his own and granting him more minutes on the first line with Kessel would likely lift his play even more.
It’s crucial to get Kessel going. There have been suggestions that trying James van Riemsdyk at centre on the first line might be the answer. But why mess with success? Like Kadri, van Riemsdyk is playing well and doing the things the Leafs were hoping for, like crashing the net and using his size on the boards and in the corners. Kessel will eventually find his scoring touch. But until the Leafs get him a bonafide top-line centre, he’ll never reach his potential. Nor will the Leafs.