Sources: Bozak chooses Leafs

Updated: April 3, 2009, 11:54 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

The Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to sign top college free agent Tyler Bozak to a two-year deal later Friday, sources close to the negotiation told ESPN.com.

The 23-year-old Bozak, a sophomore at Denver, was being pursued by virtually every other NHL team but was won over by Joe Nieuwendyk, who recently took over as a special assistant to general manager Brian Burke. Nieuwendyk lured Bozak with the prospect of making the Leafs' roster out of training camp next season.

The Toronto Star first reported that Bozak would sign with the Leafs.

Bozak, a strong two-way forward whose junior numbers rivaled those of Kyle Turris, who was picked third overall in the 2007 draft, missed most of this season with a knee injury but returned for the NCAA tournament. He could join the Leafs before the end of the regular season.

Bozak has a skillset that should see him vie for a top-six forward position next season with the Leafs. His college coach has likened him to Paul Stastny, who also played at Denver.

Bozak is the second college free agent signed by the Leafs in recent days. Notre Dame forward Christian Hanson, the son of Dave Hanson of the movie classic "Slap Shot", was to make his NHL debut Friday night for the Leafs.

And Nieuwendyk isn't done yet; it's believed the Leafs are still in the hunt for other top collegiate free agents, including Matt Gilroy.

If this all sounds familiar, it should. Burke has successfully used the same formula before.

When Burke was GM in Anaheim, he set assistant GM David McNab loose on the U.S. collegiate scene. His work there was instrumental in helping the Ducks win their first-ever Stanley Cup in 2008.

Among key contributors to that championship season were undrafted collegiate free agents Chris Kunitz, Andy McDonald and Dustin Penner. All three contributed offensively, but perhaps more importantly in the new salary-cap NHL, they did not cost the Ducks draft picks and they were not relatively expensive to sign. That gave the Ducks the financial flexibility to bring in top players like Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.

Scott Burnside is a senior hockey writer for ESPN.com.