The opportunity to complete the circle as a first round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs after leaving the organization is certainly rare. Only two players in club history have been drafted in the opening round and later returned to the fold to continue their careers.
Wendel Clark was the first. In fact, the 1985 NHL Draft's first overall pick experienced three different stints with the Maple Leafs.
Brad Boyes is the second prodigal player. The Mississauga, Ont., native was selected 24th overall by the club in 2000 but was traded in 2003 to San Jose, eventually making his NHL debut with the Sharks.
Boyes finally became a Maple Leaf, 15 years and six teams later, making the club out of training camp in September as a free agent.
At age 33, the chance to play for his hometown team completed a summer of flux as his career approached a crossroads. But, Boyes always remained confident.
"For myself, it was preparing like something was going to come up again," said Boyes. "There were some thoughts about post-hockey career, but at the same time I was going to the gym every day, and I was doing everything I normally would as if I was playing with a contract. "
Boyes came to camp in tremendous condition knowing he needed every advantage to make the team. He's been a gym rat from day one and can thank former Leaf Jamal Mayers for the interest he showed in Brad back in Mississauga almost twenty years ago.
"He was the first NHLer I was ever in the gym with. He was a machine, a great mentor and I was always trying to keep up with him. He didn't even know that I was drafted (OHL) or if I was any good. He just saw that I enjoyed being in the gym and tried to work hard keeping up with him, so he didn't mind me working out alongside him," Boyes said. "He is definitely one guy to this day who I hold pretty high for what he's done for me over the years."
On the ice, Boyes won't hesitate to mention the one player who had a major impact on his career when it started. That was Patrice Bergeron going back to their days in Providence as members of the Bruins organization.
"We were very close, we were linemates when I started. His English then wasn't very good but he led us in a very quiet way, especially the way that he worked and conducted himself. As the years have gone on we got to be pretty close. Patrice has truly earned everything he's got. He's never been given anything, he was an incredible teammate and a true leader," said Boyes.
So as Boyes can look back on three years in the American Hockey League and nearly 800 NHL games, the privilege to play in Toronto isn't lost on him. Memories of draft day back in 2000 in Calgary certainly remain vivid.
"I just remember the the reaction of my family and my mom (Mary). It was an obvious thrill to go up there, see the brass, meet Pat (Quinn), the coaching staff and all the scouts. Darryl Sittler was there, so I got to meet him too" said Boyes. "It was pretty cool to get drafted for one, and to be drafted by Toronto, the reaction from my family, and my buddies, everyone was super excited."
So excited that his dad, Bob, planted a maple tree in their Streetsville, Ont., backyard. It continues to grow as does Boyes, and a career that began as a Maple Leaf finally starts to take root almost two decades later.