Sometimes long, winding journeys can bring you back where you started. For Mississauga's Brad Boyes
, he finds himself in a position that was very familiar 15 years ago.
The Maple Leafs drafted Boyes, then a star centre for the Erie Otters, with the 24th selection of the 2000 Entry Draft. At the time, Boyes was the crown jewel of the Leafs prospect pipeline, playing his entire junior career in Erie. He also represented Canada on two occasions at the World Juniors.
In 2002-03, his first professional season, Boyes recorded 23 goals and 51 points in 65 games. The totals made him a top offensive threat for the St. John's Maple Leafs, finishing third in scoring, despite eventually being traded. In an effort by the NHL's Maple Leafs to load up for a Stanley Cup run, Boyes was shipped to San Jose in the package that landed then-Sharks captain Owen Nolan.
Since that trade on March 5, 2003, Boyes has played 762 NHL games between San Jose, Boston, St. Louis, Buffalo, Long Island and, most recently, Florida. Now, in the year 2015, he returns to his hometown and his hometown team, 15 years after his NHL journey began in Blue and White.
Needless to say, he's itching to finally get in a game with the Leafs, even if it was a long time coming.
"I didn't get that 15 years ago so better late than never I guess," said Boyes
The choice to come to Toronto on a PTO was a calculated one on the part of Boyes. A chance to come home, coupled with a young, rebuilding group looking to add a player with his skillset opened the door. After a strong showing through the first week and a half of training camp, he was rewarded with a contract for the 2015-16 season.
The Leafs provided him with an opportunity to show what he can do and he held up his end of the bargain. Now he'll be relied upon to provide offence and be a leader for a young Maple Leafs core.
"There are some young guys, there are some other guys and now with myself coming in, I'm one of the more experienced guys now," said Boyes. "I came into the league with older guys and they helped me out a lot so I think it's invaluable to have experienced guys around to help out young guys and teach them what you've been taught and the right way to be a pro."
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock is looking forward to having an offensive threat like Boyes in the lineup.
"He's smart. Our biggest thing here is we're going to have to generate some offence. I think Boyes is smart, he's been a real good pro. He has been inconsistent at times, but he's been a real good pro," said Babcock. "I liked the way he handled himself, I liked the way he played."
The addition gives Babcock greater flexibility when setting the lineup card and provides another player who can provide offence from one the team's four lines. He puts the onus of fitting new players into the system on himself.
"That's why we signed him, we think he can generate offence. But, he's a 40 point guy, maybe a 45 point guy, not an 80 point guy. Let's understand that," said Babcock. "The more guys you have who can chip in some offence and make some offensive plays — I'll teach them how to check."
With that said, there will be an adjustment for Boyes but his coach knows he is up for the challenge.
"The guys who aren't elite skaters, the way we play is going to be hard," said Babcock. "They're going to have to work and they're going to have to be consistent and go every day and he knows all those things."
Among the chief reasons for Boyes' excitement to be a Leaf is his family. Not only is he back in Toronto, but he doesn't have to worry about relocating his children after years of moving around. Having some friendly faces in the stands at Air Canada Centre will be a welcome change as well after playing much of his career far from home.
"Being in front of family goes a long way. I've traveled around and it's the first time I've been able to do that," said Boyes. "I've been in destinations where I'm further away and family hasn't been able to come down or visit at certain times of the year. This is — for me, it's very exciting."
If you're looking for who is most excited that Brad is a Maple Leaf once again, it's hard to look past his father, Bob.
"He's pretty happy about it, he's excited about it. It was tough when I got traded away, he wanted it to work out so he took it tough. Now he's kind of getting over it and is enjoying it," said Boyes. "When I got drafted he planted a maple leaf tree in the backyard and now it's 15 years later and the tree is a lot bigger and it's actually doing well. That's a good reminder for him. "
The Leafs will now look to wrap up their final three pre-season games before kicking off their 99th regular season on Oct. 7 with their home opener against Montreal.
Brad Boyes will look to get that regular season game as a Maple Leaf under his belt at that home opener, 15 years after he became a Maple Leaf.
Better late than never.