|Panthers forward David Booth scores a goal in the first period against Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres on December 17th, 2010.
It has been a little over a year since Florida Panthers forward David Booth suffered the first concussion of his career.
It was Oct. 24, 2009, when Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards delivered a crushing open-ice hit that left Booth laying on the ice and not only sidelined him for 45 games, but ended any hope he might have had at earning a roster spot on the United States Olympic Team.
He finally returned to the lineup Jan. 31, but suffered a second concussion in March, falling victim to an open-ice hit from Montreal Canadiens defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, which ended his season.
After watching his point totals increase over his first three NHL seasons, Booth had high expectations for 2009-10, but finished with just 8 goals and 16 points in just 28 games.
"We went into this season with a lot of unknowns on David," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer told NHL.com. "The way the season went for him last season, with the concussion (in Philadelphia) and coming back and getting a second one in Montreal.
"I remember talking to the guys in Boston about (Patrice) Bergeron, and they were saying that even when he returned from his concussion, it took a full year to get up to speed again. He didn't get his game back until a full year after he started playing again from his concussion, so we went in with expectations that there would be some pains with David here."
While it may take a full season before he fully recuperates from last season's forgettable episode, a confident Booth is proving to be a pretty quick healer. Through 30 games, he's tied for first on the team with 8 goals, is third with 17 points and is second on the team with 42 hits. Could this comeback earn him a possible Masterton Award nomination? You bet.
Not surprisingly, he leads the club with 119 shots. The next closest is Michael Frolik with 84.
"It's going to take time before he gets his game back to where it was before, but it's come quicker than I expected," DeBoer said. "I'm not prepared to say he's exactly where he was before the injury, but he's a lot closer than I thought he would be and he's contributing a lot more for us."
There seems to be no hesitation in his game, as evidenced in the fact the 26-year-old left wing became just the third player in the past six seasons to take 14 shots in a game in a 4-0 loss to the Bruins on Nov. 18.
"I remember talking to the guys in Boston about (Patrice) Bergeron, and they were saying that even when he returned from his concussion, it took a full year to get up to speed again. He didn't get his game back until a full year after he started playing again from his concussion, so we went in with expectations that there would be some pains with David here." - Panthers coach Peter DeBoer
He admitted to watching "three of four" replays of the devastating collision with Richards last season that knocked him unconscious and left him motionless for several minutes. He finally was taken off the ice on a stretcher. That's ancient history now, though, as he continues to make the little improvements necessary in re-establishing himself as a premier player.
"I'm just happy to stay healthy," Booth told NHL.com. "It's been a battle. There are certain times when you realize the pressures of the game. It's a lot more demanding now, and you want to do your best at all times, so you just try and come to the rink everyday. It's fun … it's just great to be able to play again."
You get the feeling Booth has an even greater appreciation for the game now, perhaps more than when he first broke into the League in 2006-07.
He said he isn't intimidated stepping onto the ice. He's all about contributing and doing whatever is required of him for the best of the team.
"You don't want to think about (another concussion)," he said. "You can't think about that stuff. I'm glad it's behind me now and the season is 30 games in. I'm feeling fine, so that's a positive."
Booth's greatest hope now is that the team can follow his personal climb. The Panthers enter Monday's game here against the Flyers 12th in the Eastern Conference with 28 points -- 10 behind eighth-place Boston.
"There's always areas for improvement, but we've beaten some of the best teams in the League and we just need to keep doing that on a consistent basis," Booth said. "We know we can play, we just need to get the confidence that we can do it every night." Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer