Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle often says he is looking for “pairs” and not so much set lines. He’s got a pair he trusts in Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel. He may have another pairing in Mason Raymond and David Bolland.
“Have we created a Mason Raymond-Dave Bolland partnership as we have with Bozak and Kessel? Maybe,” said Carlyle.
The key to this potential Maple Leafs duo is Bolland. The Toronto area kid — already a 2-time Stanley Cup winner — has proven in his short time with the Leafs to be a valuable player on the team. His no-look, behind the back pass that set up Raymond for a goal on Saturday against Ottawa earned plenty of praise and a lofty comparison from Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry.
“Does Bolland not remind you of Dougie Gilmour? Does he not look like him?” Cherry said during his Coach’s Corner segment. “Banging and smashing? Look at that pass there. Beautiful pass just like Dougie.”
“That’s a little bit out there,” Bolland said on Monday when told of Cherry’s remarks. “I think Dougie was a great player when he played and when I was younger I sort of modeled myself the way he was and the way he presented himself on the ice. Any way I can play the game like him, it could be a nice career.”
There are certainly some comparisons: offensive touch, defensively responsible and physical play.
While Gilmour had 2 seasons of 100+ points, Bolland has been more of a role player. He was a third line guy during his time in Chicago, never picking up more than 47 points in a season. In the Ontario Hockey League as a 19-year-old in London, Bolland showed Gilmour-type offence, scoring 57 goals, picking up 130 points.
In Toronto, Bolland, who wears uniform number 63 as a tribute to Gilmour and his 93, will get a chance to play more significant minutes on the second line at times, giving him a greater opportunity to be an offensive force. That versatility has served the Leafs well in the early going, missing David Clarkson (suspension) and Nikolai Kulemin (injury).
“I think he can play up and down the lineup,” Maple Leafs General Manager David Nonis said at training camp. “He’s got enough skill that he can play with real good players; he’s got enough grit that he can play against really good players. I think he’s going to be given a very significant role with us.”
In the first three games of the season, Bolland has a pair of goals and an assist. An unrestricted free agent after this season, he looks motivated and determined to have a big year.
While he won’t say he’s bitter about how things ended in Chicago (he averaged just 13:31 minutes a game during the playoffs, 6 minutes less a game than he averaged the previous two playoffs), Bolland may be playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Just how productive Bolland can be offensively is an interesting question to ponder, too, especially considering he should get a prolonged chance to share the ice with players like Raymond.
While the Blackhawks gave him plenty of ice time with Patrick Kane last season in a bit of a departure from the norm, Bolland had only 14 points in 35 games, struggling with injuries and inconsistency to the point that he lost his spot in the lineup by the time the playoffs came around.
Even so, if you examine his last three years of production, there are reasons to believe he can contribute higher in the Leafs lineup than he did in Chicago.
Bolland, for example, has had 0.51 points per game and 0.33 even strength points per game over that span compared to 0.53 and 0.36 for Toronto’s top centre, Tyler Bozak, who has benefited from substantially more ice time and playing with Phil Kessel.
Bolland’s contributions are even more impressive given the fact he has been handed tough minutes by Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. Not only has Bolland started more than twice as many of his shifts in the defensive zone compared to the offensive one, the Leafs have had 61 per cent of the shots on goal at even strength with him on the ice, the best such ratio on the team.
“When you’re around him and watch how professional he is and how hard he works and how committed he is, it’s one of those things I think our younger players should be able to grasp onto,” Carlyle said.
“I want to play here and I want to do big things here in Toronto,” Bolland said. “It’s a great place to play.”