David Booth spent part of his summer climbing mountains in Austria and instructing children at hockey camps in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
But less than a month before the start of training camp, Booth, arguably the Panthers’ most pleasant surprise last season, is back in Michigan working to improve his game, particularly his shot, and be in the lineup come opening night.
|David Booth |
“Once you get a taste of playing in the NHL,” Booth, 22, said, “it only makes you want to get back that much more.”
Drafted by the Panthers in the second round (53rd overall) of the 2004 Entry Draft, Booth started the 2006-07 season in Rochester, N.Y., with the Panthers’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate. But just months removed from playing his senior season at Michigan State, Booth suddenly found himself Nov. 20 taking his first shifts in the NHL as a member of the Panthers.
“I remember that first game being so nervous,” Booth said. “I mean, you dream of playing in the NHL as a kid. I just remember how great and proud I felt playing that night.”
Booth’s first taste of the NHL was only for four games. But he caught the eye of GM and coach Jacques Martin. After being recalled for another three games between Dec. 12-16, Booth left Rochester on Dec. 27 and spent the rest of the season with the Panthers.
“His speed was a big thing, and I liked his intensity,” Martin said.
Booth’s unexpected ascent did not surprise his former coach at Michigan State, Rick Comley, whose Spartans won the 2007 national championship.
According to Comley, Booth might have been the best player in the country during his senior season at Michigan State.
“Before he had a calf injury (late in the season), I thought he might have been the best player on any team in the country,” Comley said. “He was so physical, so dominant. I think he would have won the national championship that year if David was healthy.”
Because Booth, who had 13 goals (33 points) during his senior season at Michigan State, improved so much during his four years in college, Comley strongly believed Booth would make the jump to the NHL.
“I have to say I honestly believed he would make it to the NHL and fill a role,” Comley said. “He had more skill than people realized. Everyone wants a player like that on their team. And no one, over a four year period, improved like he did.”
Booth called his first season in the NHL “a lot of fun.” But the 6-foot, 212 pound forward also realized after last season he had “a lot of things to work on.”
After scoring 10 points (three goals) in 48 games with the Panthers last season, Booth crossed the Atlantic to help coach hockey camps in Slovakia and the Czech Republic with Hockey Ministries International, a group which hosts more than 2,000 children at Christian hockey camps. After a trip to Innsbrook, Austria, Booth returned home to Michigan to prepare for the upcoming season.
Part of Booth’s preparation has been working out at Michigan State with several NHL players including Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and Canadiens’ forward Bryan Smolinski.
But Booth paid careful attention to what Martin told him at the end of the season.
“Jacques recommended I work on my shot,” Booth said.
So to fulfill Martin’s wishes, Booth has spent time working with his old coach Johnny Bowkus of the Turcotte Hockey School.
“I’ve been doing a lot of skating but (Bowkus) grew up coaching me and it’s been a great help working with him,” he said. “The previous year I spent a lot of time in the weight room, but a player also needs to be skilled.
“I’ve been working on the accuracy of my shot and shooting from weird positions. I started shooting from these different positions the first time and I was like, ‘Are you kidding?’ But when you think about it, you don’t have time in a game to pick up one foot and pick a corner.”
Booth, who also had seven goals (14 points) in Rochester in 25 games, is one of several players who will try to start the season with the Panthers out of training camp.
“I’m anxious to see David in training camp,” Martin said. “He works hard, he’s committed. He didn’t start the season with us last year but once he got the opportunity he handled himself well.”
And despite the fact the Panthers improved their depth with the addition of free agent forwards Radek Dvorak, Richard Zednik and Brett McLean, Booth is eager to prove himself worthy of starting the season Oct. 4 with the Panthers in New York.
“I know they got three really good players,” Booth said. “But there’s nothing that’s going to change that. I’m looking forward to camp. I think I was a little nervous last year at camp. I didn’t really know anyone. But I know the guys now, I think I’ll be more relaxed, and I think that’s going to help me a lot.”