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Devin Setoguchi, left, chases Tyler Bozak during the Toronto Maple Leafs’ training camp in Halifax on Sept. 20. Setoguchi is one of four veterans on pro tryouts with a franchise attempting to rebuild itself.Jeff Harper/The Canadian Press

As Devin Setoguchi told his story – and not for the first time – he hinted at the dark days in his not-so-distant past.

The morning headaches. The wasted opportunities, after accomplishing his "childhood dream" of making the NHL.

"It had gotten to the point where there was no coming back to where I was going," he said, as he laid out how he had ended up in rehab in April, with his career – and life – in jeopardy at 28 years old.

Setoguchi is now sixth months sober and trying to make the Toronto Maple Leafs in training camp, one of four veterans on pro tryouts with a franchise attempting to rebuild itself.

He is also a positive, redemptive story in a league desperate for more of them right now.

It was not a good summer for the NHL. One of hockey's biggest stars, Patrick Kane, is controversially attending Chicago Blackhawks training camp under the cloud of a sexual-assault investigation.

Two players from the Los Angeles Kings, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll, were charged with drug-related offences.

Another Kings player, Slava Voynov, is leaving the league – and the country – with nearly $20-million remaining on his contract after spending three months in jail for domestic assault. He had been facing deportation back to Russia.

Buffalo Sabres star Ryan O'Reilly was charged with impaired driving after his truck crashed into a Tim Hortons in rural Ontario.

New Jersey Devils prospect Ben Johnson didn't attend either their rookie or main camp as he awaits a verdict in a sexual assault trial stemming from an incident when he was in junior hockey.

It's not a short list, not in a league where only 700-some odd players will make NHL rosters two weeks from now when final cuts are made. And in every case, there appears to be a common connection to drug or alcohol use or abuse.

It's a problem the league is acutely aware of, and teams are increasingly taking preventative action. Earlier this month, the Kings hired former enforcer and addict Brantt Myhres to advise them on off-ice issues as the NHL's first player assistance director.

Setoguchi credits the NHLPA with getting him into a treatment facility and supporting his recovery, something that has become more common in recent years when players struggle with drug or alcohol issues.

"Basically get a redo with life," Setoguchi explained. "Not just hockey – with life. I'm a happier person than I've ever been. If hockey's not a part of it, it's not. That's kind of where it was with my path.

"I'm trying to get the hockey part back [with the Leafs], but I'm a happy person without it right now."

Setoguchi isn't the only redemption story at camp. Nazem Kadri – once the Leafs' most promising prospect – is also attempting to put off-ice issues behind him, including a partying problem that was tied to a three-game suspension for missing a practice back in March.

President Brendan Shanahan had a heart-to-heart with Kadri after what was a very public incident, part of a push by the organization to get the player on a different course. "There comes a point where you've got to grow up," Shanahan said.

New Leafs coach Mike Babcock said at camp this weekend in Halifax that that process is as important as the drills and scrimmages, and something he is working on with not only Kadri but all his players.

"We've talked lots to our guys, and we're going to continue to talk lots," Babcock said. "You've got to build people. You coach hockey, but you coach people. I think it's real important that you be good citizens: You treat fans right, you treat the media right, you own your own stuff. … The biggest thing here is to understand that's all part of being a good human being. That's what matters."

"You learn from your mistakes," Kadri said. "I think I've definitely come a long way since then. I'm ready to turn the page and have a fresh start with a coaching staff that believes in me and is willing to help me."

Four years older than Kadri and likely closer to the end of his career than the beginning, Setoguchi understands that situation, how all the fame and wealth and pressure at an early age can send players in the wrong direction.

But he hopes this camp with the Leafs is the start of something rather than an end. He has bounced from team to team of late – playing in Minnesota, Winnipeg, Calgary and the AHL in the last three seasons – but believes he can regain the 30-goal, 65-point form that he showed in San Jose as a sophomore.

Recently married and ready to start a family, he believes he now fits Babcock's description of being a good human being.

"You know what, it was my childhood dream to play in the NHL. And I made it," Setoguchi said. "Did I take things for granted along the way? Absolutely. There was a lot of things I could have done differently. But I saw where I was, and I didn't like it. I want to be able to come back and play the game I loved to play as a kid.

"It's not going to be easy. And it hasn't been. But I wake up in the morning and I feel 50 times better than what I was feeling the last three years. I haven't had a headache in six months. I feel great."

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