TORONTO — When the Toronto Maple Leafs traded away their impending free agents at the deadline, David Booth remained to finish out the rest of his one-year contract. That may turn out to be the best thing for him.
Booth has arguably been the Leafs’ best player since the deadline with six goals and two assists. He’s played well enough to earn himself another NHL contract, whether it’s in Toronto or elsewhere.
“There were times where I’m like, yeah, I don’t feel like I once did,” said Booth, who missed the season’s first six weeks with a broken right foot. “But that’s why I kept working at it because I know if I keep working at it, things will change and you will start to see, I think, the results of hard work.
“I think it’s shown itself right now. I do feel more confident out there, and I do feel like I can contribute and can help a team win.”
Six years removed from the only 30-goal season of his career and on the heels of being bought out by the Vancouver Canucks, Booth has shown in recent weeks that he can still play a role in the NHL. He made the most of increased ice time that came after Toronto dealt forwards Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli.
Booth went from being a fourth-liner to someone playing upwards of 16 minutes a game.
“It’s tough when you’re getting two, three shifts a period to really go out there and do anything,” the 30-year-old said Tuesday. “(I’ve been) coming to practice, working hard every day, working on specific skills so if you do get that chance like happened at the trade deadline, then you’re ready for it. It’s good that I was given that shot.”
Booth’s agent, Mike Liut, has not had contract talks with the Leafs, but with uncertainty about the future of the front office that’s not a surprise. Booth said he’d like to come back to prove this team is better than this season showed.
The Leafs or another team would like to have Booth if he’s healthy and plays the way he has recently. Booth has been working with skating consultant Barb Underhill, and the results are noticeable in game action.
“His confidence and ability to take the puck to the net is there,” interim coach Peter Horachek said. “I think he feels better about his game, and sometimes psychologically that’s the most important part.”
It was difficult for Booth to come back from a bad fracture in his foot, and he wasn’t himself when he made his season debut in late November. Eventually as he felt healthier, he got more scoring chances and felt better about moving around the ice.
“I think my game is skating and being dynamic on my feet,” Booth said. “When I feel good skating, I feel dominant in other areas of the game.”
Horachek said the coaching staff talked to Booth recently about being more productive and taking the puck to the net. Work ethic is never the question for Booth, who’s a gym rat and one of the fittest players around.
Booth said he’s not focused on a contract and hopes to use the off-season to take the next step in his career evolution.
“The summer is where I really make up ground,” he said. “I think staying healthy, I can continue this and just get a lot better: work on specific skills over the course of the summer and come back wherever it may be and just showing that I’m capable of playing this game at a high level.”
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press
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