David Booth will put months of rehabilitation from an ankle injury to the test Saturday.
The Vancouver winger is slated to play his first game since March as the Canucks visit the Edmonton Oilers in an NHL preseason game.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve played, so there’s going to be certain things that you’re going to have to work out, whether it’s the first period, the second period, first game, second game,” Booth said after practice Friday. “But if I can get a couple games in here before [the season], I think that will really help.”
Booth, one of Vancouver’s highest-paid players at $4.25-million (U.S.) a season, will use the game as part of his effort to improve on a lockout-shortened 2013 in which he scored just one goal – into an empty net – and added two assists in 12 games.
His season ended prematurely when he suffered a broken ankle and ligament damage that required surgery in a March 16 game against the Detroit red Wings.
“It’s not going to be on my mind,” he said of the injury. “I can’t go in there thinking I’m going to be tentative.”
The 28-year-old Detroit native hopes to get comfortable again with the speed of the game, which he thinks will pose his “biggest problem.”
“The physical, play, the balance, all that stuff, will take time,” he said.
The first hit, he added, will wake him up and assist in improving those aspects.
Booth has already taken some hits publicly for his enigmatic play and boasts about his hunting conquests off the ice. A former 30-goal scorer with the Florida Panthers, he has yet to excel with the Canucks after two seasons marred by injuries and inconsistency.
Before being sidelined with the leg injury, Booth missed some games because of a groin injury during on-ice testing in training camp. With his health improved, he is hoping to make an impact with the Canucks as they attempt to atone for first-round playoff exits the past two seasons.
“I think I can contribute more than I ever have,” he said. “I really believe that. I’ve worked hard this off-season to get back to where I need to be for the season. I know [I’m] not going to just jump in and be 100 per cent right away, and that’s going to be frustrating.
“But I’m playing with some really good teammates and good linemates. If I can get a chance with Ryan [Kesler] and Alex [Burrows], I think that will help my game a lot.”
Booth is getting a bit of late start in the preseason, because he was still not cleared to play after arriving for training camp. He just resumed on-ice workouts this week, after spending the summer working out in Florida and flying to Vancouver for medical appointments.
“From the time that I was in a boot, I couldn’t walk for six to eight weeks,” he said. “I worked out my upper body and I got really strong up there. But then when I was able to start rehabbing my ankle and start doing a little bit more conditioning, I started doing more agility stuff, balance stuff, biometric stuff.
“That didn’t really start until August, and that was frustrating, because usually I’m doing that stuff in May and just keep building and building. a But it is a long process and I’m still on the upward.”
At one point during his rehab period, Booth bulked up because he had watched Chicago Blackhawks winger Bryan Bickell in the regular season and playoffs with the Stanley Cup champions. But the Canucks winger soon realized he and Bickell have different styles.
“I was 237 [pounds] up there, and I can’t skate when I’m like that,” he said. “I can’t feel the puck. I can’t doing anything. Watching the playoffs and watching Bickell and seeing how good of a season and playoffs he had, I was [thinking] I had to get big, because I was watching him play and he was very effective out there.
“But that’s not my game. I have speed. I still think I can be stronger on the puck without all the extra upper-body weight.”
Vancouver head coach John Tortorella is still trying to figure out what kind of game Booth can offer the Canucks. The new coach saw Booth play many times while he coached the Tampa Bay Lightning and the winger toiled for the Panthers.
But Tortorella wants to see more of him with the Canucks before making an assessment.
“I’ve seen him practise once, so I have no impression,” he said. “I know what he is. I’ve seen him play in the league, but I can’t give you an impression on what he is right now.”