After initial shock, Booth embraces Vancouver trade
VANCOUVER -- The tears had dried by the time David Booth "packed up his life" and arrived on a cross-continent flight from Florida to join the Vancouver Canucks on Monday.
Booth's eyes, however, remained wide and open, matching his smile.
"This is nothing but good for me," he said with a grin.
Booth said all the right things after his first practice with his new team, even while admitting to crying after Saturday's trade from the Panthers. He coolly explained it was not just because he left behind the only NHL team he'd ever known, but also a younger brother and roommate with whom he was even closer.
"It was an emotional time for me," Booth said of been dealt, along with AHL-bound center Steve Reinprecht and a third-round draft pick in 2013, for veterans Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm. "I lived with my brother down in Florida and it's hard to leave him. I grew up my whole life with him, and it was tough to say good bye. And it's going to be tough for a while."
Softening things are the team and opportunity that waited his arrival in Vancouver.
The 26-year-old was open about having no idea what it might be like under the microscope of a hockey-mad market, but appeared genuinely excited about the chance to do so on a promising second line already being dubbed The American Express.
That the other parts of the speedy new Stars-and-Stripes trio -- Selke Trophy-winning center Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins -- are also former teammates should ease the transition. Booth grew up playing minor hockey with Kesler in the Detroit suburbs, and won gold with him at the 2004 World Junior Championships.
"Good memories," said Booth, adding the two first played together at age 12. "Man, I've been to so many championships with him, growing up playing and with Team USA. I'm really looking forward to it because I know he's a great leader."
The feeling must be mutual, because head coach Alain Vigneault said the team talked to Kesler before making the deal for his old minor-hockey teammate.
"(Kesler) spoke very highly of the person and hockey player," Vigneault said.
Kesler wasn't the only player the Canucks could have asked about Booth.
He also played with Higgins last season in Florida, before a deadline deal sent Higgins to the West. Add in defenseman Keith Ballard, a teammate for two seasons with the Panthers before he, too, was dealt to Vancouver in a draft-day blockbuster two summers ago, and Booth already feels at home.
"If I would have started the year here I would have known more people here than I would have in Florida," Booth said, referencing the Panthers' off-season rebuild. "It's good. It makes the transition easier for sure."
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Good linemates will further ease the transition. Off to a slow start with one assist, a minus-6 rating, and demotion to the third line in six games in Florida, Booth makes his Canucks' debut Tuesday in Edmonton on the left side of a trio with a tantalizing blend of speed, grit and goal-scoring history. The Canucks hope Kesler's two-way dominance and Higgins' versatility and well-rounded game will complement the newcomer.
Booth, whose success is built around speed, a good shot and a willingness to take both to the net, views playing with Kesler and Higgins as a chance to get back to the career-high 31 goals he scored three seasons ago.
He isn't alone.
"He's got good size and obviously a real good skater that doesn't mind going to those areas you need to go," Vigneault said. "We're giving him an opportunity to get his game to where he wants it to be, and where we need it to be."
It hasn't always been there after missing most of 2009-10 with two concussions, but Booth still scored a team leading 23 goals and finished with 40 points -- but also a minus-31 rating -- while playing all 82 games this past season.
"I know I have to be better," said Booth, who should also see time on the second-unit power play based on practice. "I feel I can get back [to 31] and even higher. I'm playing with some good players. ... There's more expected of me here and I'm ready for that."
He is not, however, ready for how those expectations might manifest themselves differently in a Canadian market. It's something he admitted to the three-deep pile of reporters crowded around his locker following that first practice.
"I don't know," said Booth, displaying some of the outgoing personality and laid back demeanor that made him a fan favorite in Florida. "I don't know what it's like. This is my first time in this situation. My whole career has been in Florida and it's polar opposite, so this is a new challenge for me and I'm excited for it and I'm ready to go."
Others expressed similar sentiments upon arrival from less traditional hockey markets, but not all enjoyed immediate success. Higgins, a New York native who started his NHL career in Montreal, made a smooth transition, moving from the fourth to the second line, and earning a contract extension.
Defenseman Andrew Alberts struggled miserably after arriving from Carolina at the trade deadline two seasons ago, but steadied himself after getting a summer to adjust. Fellow Minnesota native Ballard went through a similarly rough transition last season, and while the problem was injury-related to start, he admitted when the spotlight becomes a glare, it gets harder to focus.
"It's not fun when things aren't going well," Ballard said before the season.
Maybe Booth's pre-Panthers experiences will help.
This may be Booth's first experience with playing in a Canadian market, but Booth grew up in a region that knows a thing or two about puck passion.
"Growing up in Detroit, watching those Stanley Cup teams, that's something that got me excited to play hockey," said Booth, who turns 27 on Nov. 24. "Now to be here -- I got to watch Hockey Night in Canada growing up as a kid -- this is so cool to be part of."
Clearly the tears were left back in Florida.
The spotlight is now on in Vancouver.
So far David Booth seems comfortable with both those developments.