Despite the fact he grew up in Michigan, David Booth says it was “a childhood dream” to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I’m very excited to have this opportunity,” Booth, who often travelled to Toronto to play in tournaments as a kid, told Sportsnet 590 The Fan Thursday. “I grew up watching Hockey Night [in Canada] in Detroit so it’s very, very exciting for me.
“I have a great love for the city, and I’m very excited to be playing hockey for the Maple Leafs.”
The Leafs signed the 29-year-old to a one-year, $1.1 million contract Tuesday, and Booth is hoping the 2014-15 campaign serves as a means for redemption.
Booth missed a total of 68 regular-season games in less than three seasons with the Vancouver Canucks after being acquired from the Florida Panthers in 2011; he also missed the majority of the 2009-10 season after suffering a serious concussion.
The six-foot, 212-pound left wing knows staying healthy and finding a level of consistency will be key with his new team.
“I think the biggest thing for me is getting in a rhythm and staying there,” Booth explained. “I battled a few injuries in Vancouver, and it’s such a tough league when you’re always a step behind…. By the time you get back, the game is just so fast and you feel like you’re playing catch-up the rest of the year.”
Booth is coming off a disappointing season where he registered 19 points in 66 games, but he felt like he was rounding onto form as the season wound down.
“At the end of the season, after a lot of struggles, I started playing better and it felt like I was finding my game again,” Booth said. “I’m very excited for the opportunity to re-establish my game again and prove to myself and prove to anyone else that I’m a great player…. I’ve been having an awesome summer of training.”
Booth’s agent, Mike Liut, told Vancouver’s News1130 Sports Wednesday the Leafs were one of three teams looking to add his client — the Winnipeg Jets were also interested. Liut said a determining factor in Booth joining the Leafs was the fact he “will get a chance to play in Toronto, and that’s all we were looking for.”
Another reason was centre Mike Santorelli, whom the the Leafs added earlier in the summer. Booth and Santorelli are friends and were teammates in both Florida and Vancouver, at times playing well together.
With Nikolai Kulemin signing a lucrative deal with the New York Islanders and Mason Raymond leaving town to join the Calgary Flames, there appears to be an open spot on the Leafs’ second line alongside Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul.
Leafs president Brendan Shanahan has said he wants to create a culture in Toronto where players compete for lineup spots rather than feeling entitled to them. Booth doesn’t have any expectations when it comes to where he might slot in but is hoping to earn a significant role on the team.
“I’m probably more dedicated than most guys when it comes to being in shape and taking the game seriously,” Booth said. “If I wasn’t passionate about it, I wouldn’t be playing in this league.”
In 443 games with the Canucks and Panthers, the 53rd-overall pick in the 2004 draft has 113 goals, 105 assists and 181 penalty minutes.