David Booth, after a half-year of convalescence, is back on the ice for the Vancouver Canucks – and he feels he will be ready for the team's season-opener on Oct. 3 on the road against the San Jose Sharks.
The winger went down in mid-March when he slammed against the boards chasing a puck on an icing call, smashing his ankle. He had surgery soon thereafter and screws were used to reconnect the tibia and fibula bones in his calf.
On Wednesday, Booth practiced with the Canucks for the first time in training camp. He skated with teammates who are not playing in tonight's preseason game against Edmonton. Booth had been, from later August onwards, skating several hours a day, as well as putting in a couple hours in the gym.
There had been chatter about buying out Booth's contract – two years remaining with a cap hit of $4.25-million per season – but it was never a possibility because he was on injured reserve through the summer. Now the Canucks can only hope the 28-year-old regains some of his earlier form. Last season was a complete failure. He hurt himself, a groin injury, at the start of training camp and in the 12 games he played before his ankle injury he scored one goal- an empty-netter.
Coach John Tortorella cited consistent health as his foremost concern for Booth, but is well aware of the offensive flare the winger can bring to the ice when healthy. Tortorella coached Tampa Bay when Booth was a hotshot scorer for the Florida Panthers. Booth's best year was 2008-09, when he scored 31 goals and 72 points – his breakout season that got him his current contract. A concussion wrecked much of the next season but he did put up 23 goals and 40 points in 82 games in 2010-11.
In Vancouver, he was hurt in his first season here, too, but did manage 16 goals and 29 points in 56.
Booth had been told by his doctor that it can be up to a year to be 100-per-cent back to where he stood before the injury. For the first several months he could do little and in the summer only upper body work – increasing his weight to nearly 240 pounds (compared with his listed 212). The summer spent healing could slow Booth this fall.
"Even in mid-, late-August, I was still very frustrated with how long this injury takes," said Booth in an interview on Sept. 3, when he was skating at an informal practice with some fellow Canucks and appeared strong on his skates.
"The summer is where I make my biggest strides for my game, with my strength and my speed and my power. I pride myself on my skating, the strength in my lower body."
A Booth revival will be a key part of a renewed offensive attack from the Canucks. Last year, with Ryan Kesler and Booth out for long stretches, Vancouver was an easy team to defend, a one-line song. This year, the first line looks to be the Sedins with Zack Kassian, and then Booth and Alex Burrows as wingers for Kesler on the second line. If the Canucks are to generate more success than last year, they need to reasonably expect at least 20 goals from Booth, whose size – 6-foot-2 and the noted 212 pounds – was also missed last year.
However, an intriguing rookie has emerged, in Booth's absence. Hunter Skinkaruk, the Canucks's second first-round this past June, scored in his first National Hockey League game on Monday night, a highlight-reel beauty from a near-impossible angle. Skinkaruk is only 5-foot-10 and 181 pounds but impressed Tortorella from the first day and on Monday played in Booth's spot with Kesler and Burrows.
On Wednesday, hosting the Edmonton Oilers, Shinkaruk again gets the best assignment of the team's rookies, playing on the team's second line again with free-agent centre Brad Richardson and winger Jannik Hansen. It seems, at this stage, Shinkaruk could be the one rookie to crack the lineup, possibly as a 13th forward who could add scoring spice and a live-wire personality. He has a ready smile and has been described by assistant coach Mike Sullivan as having "moxie." This is precisely what Tortorella – who mentored young skaters in New York – wants to inject into the ageing team.
Notes: Wednesday night, Bo Horvat – the No. 9 pick acquired in the Cory Schneider trade – will centre rookie Nicklas Jensen and journeyman Colin Stuart. Horvat probably will end up back in junior in London and Jensen might make the team. Stuart is probably destined for the American Hockey League affiliate in Utica, N.Y. Meanwhile, 2012 first-round pick Brendan Gaunce, a centre, will play wing on the fourth line.