TORONTO - David Booth still fondly remembers his first NHL training camp out of college and the relaxing lack of expectations. He went on to play 48 games his rookie season for the Florida Panthers and not long after developed into a 30-goal scorer.
Eight years later, Booth doesn't want to set expectations for himself going into camp with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Well, except for one.
"Staying healthy," he said. "This is my first summer in a while that I've been able to stay healthy and train hard and have a good training camp. That's the first goal."
Health hasn't been on Booth's side, dating to a concussion he received from a hit by Mike Richards in Oct. 2009. Since, he missed over a month with a knee injury in 2011, was limited to 12 games in 2013 because of an ankle problem and dealt with groin injuries last season.
"We were going over our medicals (Thursday) and the doctors were just like, 'Man, you've had a lot of bad luck,' " Booth said Friday. "Breaking a knee, breaking an ankle, groin injuries, those are things that happen with the game.
"It's not like you can do anything to prevent those. Just getting warm to make sure you're reacting well to the game might be able to prevent it, but there's no way around that stuff."
Injuries and decreased production as a result led to the Vancouver Canucks buying Booth out of the final season of his US$25.5-million, six-year contract. After 87 goals and 80 assists in 309 games with the Panthers, the winger managed just 26 goals and 25 assists in 134 games for the Canucks.
On the books to make $4.75 million before the buyout, Booth signed a $1.1-million, one-year deal with the Leafs to prove himself again. With 10 players on one-way contracts competing for seven or eight spots on the roster, the Detroit native knows "there's no guarantees."
With health his priority, Booth doesn't want to set too many goals too far in the future.
"You can't look at December or January and start to worry about that," he said. "I think it starts with a good training camp and having a productive first couple of weeks."
To start, Booth could get a look alongside former Panthers and Canucks teammate Mike Santorelli. Coach Randy Carlyle said he'd be "foolish not to try it."
Booth and Santorelli each had 40-point seasons in 2010-'11 when they played together.
"He's big, he's strong, he's powerful and he has such a good shot," said Santorelli, who's also on a one-year deal in Toronto. "Typical power forward that's awesome playing with."
Awesome to play with when he's on the ice.
Like Joffrey Lupul, who has had even more hard-luck injuries during his career, Booth has flashed top-six scoring ability when healthy. He had 31 goals and 29 assists in 2008-'09, before the concussion derailed his progress.
In order to produce like that again, Booth believes he needs opportunity as much as anything else.
"When I was down in Florida you're playing 20 minutes a night, playing on the power play, and things just kind of go," he said. "When you're playing 10-12 minutes in Vancouver, no power play time, you can't really expect the same things. Your roles change."
As Carlyle tries to balance out three scoring lines, Booth should certainly be a part of that. That is, if Booth is able to stay healthy because he knows how quickly things can turn if he doesn't.
"One year after another and you see how hard it is to come back from an injury," he said. "If you have an injury and you miss training camp or even the first game or two, the game is so fine-tuned that if you just miss a little bit you're going to be behind and it's always a struggle to keep up.
"That's why I'm excited for this year because I'm starting training camp and I just want to stay healthy through it."
Notes—Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson were listed as "out" on the Leafs' weekend training-camp schedule. Through a team spokesman, Carlyle called them "day-to-day" but didn't disclose anything more about their injuries. Neither player took part in on-ice testing Friday ... The first practices of camp are set for Saturday. The Leafs are split up in two groups, one named for Wendel Clark and the other for Darryl Sittler.
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