Trying to figure out his major in college was difficult for David Booth
. Trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life was much easier.
"I changed my major three times in my four years at Michigan State," Florida Panthers
forward David Booth
said. "At first I wanted to get my degree in dentistry, like my dad. Well, it was boring, so then I changed to business. Finally I decided on a business degree in supply chain management.
"But in the back of my mind I always hoped I could make a career for myself in hockey."
Mike and Karen Booth swear that when the doctor delivered their son in November 1984, he said David had the legs of a hockey player. In the nearly 24 years since, Booth has displayed the heart and passion of a pretty darn good hockey player. And in the meantime, he has worked on improving his hidden skating skills to the point that his speed and stride are the best parts of his game.
"When I saw him four years ago, I thought, 'Well, this kid has the heart to play professional hockey, but his skating may hold him back,'" Panthers General Manager Jacques Martin said. "But he made a commitment to improve that part of his game. He found a power skating instructor he had confidence in. And each year he's come back to our training camp faster and quicker.
"He's completely changed his identity. He's gone from an intense, hard-working, defensive prospect to a great-skating offensive threat who is really dangerous when he goes to the net."
After scoring 22 goals in his first full NHL season in 2007-08, those close to the Panthers believed this go-getter had a chance for a real breakout season. He may have underscored that prediction Nov. 9, when he scored all of Florida's goals in a 3-1 victory at Anaheim.
Booth put on his first pair of skates when he was 3 and by the time he was 5, he was on a team. He always found himself the youngest kid on his team. Everything else in this young man's life was accelerated -- taking advanced classes at three high schools near Washington Township, Mich., so he could graduate early and enter Michigan State.
As a freshman for the Spartans in 2002-03, he was Michigan State's fourth-leading scorer with 17 goals and was named to the CCHA's All-Rookie team. In his sophomore season, Booth struggled on the ice, primarily because of a knee injury. He had only 8 goals, but won the Amo Bessone Award for athletic, scholastic and community participation.
The injury didn't hurt Booth, even though it came in his NHL draft year. That also was the year he scored two goals for the United States in the World Under-18 tournament against Russia as the Americans won the gold medal. He was selected by Florida in the second round (No. 53) of the 2004 Entry Draft.
"Our scouts said he was a strong, committed defensive player with the character we were looking for and a pretty good skill-set," Martin said.
Like most young players, Booth still has a lot to learn, but his great speed was intriguing.
"I know now that I need to be more consistent," he said. "You can't just do it once or twice in a game. Players at this level are all so big and strong, it's not about physical skills -- it's about the will to beat the other guy again and again, the ability to make a difference in the game ... more than once."
It's hard to put the onus on a player who just turned 24 Nov. 24, but there are those in the stands in South Florida who believe Booth could become a franchise favorite like the retired Scott Mellanby
. Scoring six game-winning goals among his 22 last season will have that kind of impact on people.
"I'm just an ordinary Midwestern kid who loved to skate and play hockey," Booth said, "whether it was roller hockey in the basement or on my grandfather's pond in Walled Lake (Mich.)."