He hails from Hockeytown, has hockey hair and a hockey number, but even David Booth is unsure if he can hack it in a hockey market.
The newest Vancouver Canucks player participated in his first practice Monday and was all smiles afterwards when he met the largest media scrum of his seven-year NHL career in the team’s dressing room. He was greeted by a chorus of “Boooo-th” from his teammates as he walked to his new corner stall, a stark contrast from Saturday when he reportedly broke down in tears after being told of his trade from the Florida Panthers.
Booth, 26, has only known the Panthers, their small fan base and limited media coverage, but the reason for his emotion had more to do with family than with leaving a perennial loser for a Stanley Cup contender. The speedy left winger said he was sad to depart his brother, whom he lived with in South Florida, and had his father visiting from suburban Detroit when he was made aware of the deal that sent him and centre Steven Reinprecht to Vancouver for wingers Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm.
The worry among Canucks fans is that Booth doesn’t adapt to a hockey market where his every move will be scrutinized, and crumbles underneath the pressure to perform. Canucks defenceman Keith Ballard, who also came in a trade with the Panthers, struggled under that spotlight last season, his first in Vancouver after a career spent in the Sunbelt.
“It was tough to say goodbye, and it’s going to be tough for a while,” said Booth, who will wear No. 7 with the Canucks in honour of his 16-year-old sister Rachael, an aspiring hockey player. “This is going to be pretty new for me. … I don’t know what it’s like because this is my first time in this situation. My whole career has been in Florida, and it’s the polar opposite.
“I don’t know how difficult [the transition] is going to be.”
Booth hasn’t played to his potential since a 31-goal, 60-point season in 2008-09. He said his struggles have nothing to do with two concussions he suffered during the 2009-10 campaign, and acknowledged that he had to “be better” with his new team.
“I feel I can get back there and even higher,” said Booth, sweat still dripping from his long, blonde locks that protrude from his helmet.
Booth, who was raised in Washington, Mich., has never played in an NHL postseason game, which is perhaps why he’s such a good golfer, sporting a two-handicap on the links. Those tee-to-green skills actually led to a chance encounter with Canucks general manager Mike Gillis in California this summer, when they were playing in consecutive groups at the famed Pebble Beach.
Booth “got a hold of one, there was a lot of wind blowing out there” and drove the ball into Gillis’s group. When he got up the fairway and approached the aggrieved party, Booth thought, “Man, he looks familiar,” and was soon introduced to the Canucks general manager.
Gillis is once again banking that his organization can help maximize the potential of a player who has fallen into a slump – Booth has just one point in six games this season – but there is one element of his game that should impress the new bosses.
“Speed, speed, speed,” is a common refrain from head coach Alain Vigneault during practice, and Gillis occasionally mutters it to himself as he watches the sessions. Undoubtedly, the trade will improve Vancouver’s speed on the second line, where Booth will slot beside centre Ryan Kesler and right wing Chris Higgins, both excellent skaters.