Nick Bonino returns to Sharks after historically long stint away

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Originally drafted by Sharks, Bonino's return marks wild stat originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The Sharks were busy on the opening day of free agency, and it involved the return of a player who should be familiar to the fan base -- for more than one reason.

No, not goaltender James Reimer, who signed a two-year contract with San Jose after a brief stint with the team in 2016. We're talking about veteran center Nick Bonino, whom the Sharks drafted in the sixth round in 2007.

Bonino, 33, has yet to play in a game for the franchise that drafted him. But he already has factored into one of the biggest games in Sharks franchise history in a major way. He scored the game-winning goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins with 2:33 remaining in Game 1 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals.

It will be tough for Bonino to score a bigger goal in his career, but the Sharks certainly hope he'll do so for them after signing him to a two-year contract on Wednesday. He seems like a lock to center the third line in the season opener on Oct. 16, and when he does, it will mark the end of one of the longest stretches of its kind throughout NHL history.

Bonino has played in 681 career games. According to SportsRadar, there are only two other players in NHL history who appeared in at least that many games before eventually playing for the team that drafted them: Ron Wilson (783 games) -- the center, not the defenseman/former Sharks head coach -- with the Montreal Canadiens and Brad Boyes (762 games) with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Though Bonino's name should be familiar to those in San Jose, there aren't a ton of faces in the Sharks' locker room that will be familiar to him. One obvious exception, though, is winger Andrew Cogliano, who signed a one-year contract with San Jose on Wednesday. Cogliano and Bonino were teammates on the Anaheim Ducks in 2013-14.

Based on what Doug Wilson said Wednesday, the Sharks' general manager has had his eye on both veterans for some time now.

"I think them coming into the room ... the presence that they have and the success they've had and the respect that they both have around the league, bringing that into our dressing room is just a huge bonus," Wilson said. "I do know they talked a lot amongst each other. All I can say is I'm really, really happy. I've been trying to acquire both of them for several years."

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Bonino surely imagined he would make his Sharks debut long before he actually will. He took a circuitous route, but now he's back where it all began.