Brad Boyes (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
One of the newest Maple Leafs is actually a very old first round draft pick of the franchise. The veteran right winger has scored a lot of goals around the NHL and now he's hoping to do it in front of friends and family in Toronto.
It has been 15 years since the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted right winger Brad Boyes 24th overall in the draft. Before this season, the native of the city's suburbs had only played in a Leafs sweater with "St. John's" on the logo – but now he's come full-circle and will play on the franchise's top line for opening night. Good thing he bought a condo in town all those years ago. Wait, what?
It's true. As Michael Traikos recently noted, Boyes bought a downtown condo after he was drafted by Toronto in 2000 and now the goal-scorer can truly put it to use – he was traded to San Jose in 2003, where he played his first of more than 760 NHL games to date. Plus, he'll have a lot more family and friends in the rink than he did when he played further from his Mississauga roots in markets such as St. Louis, Boston and Florida.
“My buddies are all Leafs fans, so they’re pretty jacked about it," Boyes said. "It’s everything you would expect it to be – everyone’s excited, everyone’s happy.”
Leafs Nation as a whole may be a little more guarded, though. Despite super-sizing the team's brass with names such as new coach Mike Babcock and GM Lou Lamoriello, the common wisdom is that Toronto will struggle to win games in 2015-16. Boyes has played on rebuilding and transitioning teams in the past, so he's prepared if things go south in a hurry. Nobody wants a return of last year's gloomy edition of the Blue and White.
“I have been on those teams," he said. "If you’re on the losing end, remember the feeling; remember what it takes to get out of it. Winning is a habit just as much as losing is a habit. There are a lot of tells when you’re losing that will give you an indication of why it’s happening. We have to make sure we realize both sides.”
First and foremost, Boyes noted that the team must grow together and figure out what its identity is. Having such a strong personality behind the bench in Babcock will help and the Leafs lauded their new bench boss for being as detail-oriented as his reputation indicated. But ultimately it will up to the players on the ice and Boyes has a golden opportunity ahead of him.
Originally brought into camp on a tryout basis, the veteran earned himself a one-year contract and will find himself on the top line with center Nazem Kadri and left winger James van Riemsdyk to start things off. The trio was put together late by Babcock and didn't even practise together before an exhibition game against Detroit, but Boyes was happy with how they read off each other instantly.
“He’s been smart with the puck," van Riemsdyk said. "Really good skill and has a nose for the net. I mean, he has scored a ton of goals in the league and he brings that veteran presence. He’s fun to play with.”
Boyes sees himself getting into scoring areas thanks to Kadri and JVR's ability to hold onto the puck and should that line click, it would really be a boon for a team that lost one of the most dangerous snipers in the NHL when Phil Kessel was traded to Pittsburgh in the summer.
And while it may not have been ideal for Boyes to have to go through a tryout just to get his contract, that has been the reality for many veterans this summer. With young kids pushing their way onto rosters, established players such as Boyes, Curtis Glencross and Tomas Fleischmann have been scrambling. Luckily for Boyes, his ultimate destination was his hometown team.
“I really am happy to be in Toronto," he said. "Going through a summer of unknowns and question marks, it’s come to a point where I’m pretty happy how it turned out.”