"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth." Oscar Wilde
I agree, stay clinical. The research is already there and nothing he can do, unless it's ridiculously profound or linked with industry, will help his CV much at this point. Staying clinical will keep him fresh but also demonstrate that he does have a passion for clinical work and patients. It sounds like he has a good shot of getting a spot -- if it's open. What a shame his home program doesn't have a spot for him. He sounds far more qualified than the average applicant. The rule of thumb for "one year out" is to stay clinical unless you feel passionate about a specific research project that already has funding.
Hope, thanks for your comments. You said it better than I.
I don't know if he as talked to his current program director, but if the director has even a shred of integrity he/she will keep an ear to the ground for a categorical spot that might open up somewhere, someday. If the resident has worked and studied hard, I can't see a reason that the director wouldn't want him to succeed somewhere. It's kind of like assistant coaches; the head coach hates to lose them, but it's a positive reflection on the head coach when the assistant goes somewhere else and succeeds.