Horton's decision to spurn the Boston Bruins' advances and leave for the Columbus Blue Jackets during the offseason left the Bruins without a power forward to combine with David Krejci and Milan Lucic. For three years, including the Stanley Cup championship season of 2011, Krejci, Lucic and Horton were practically inseparable and almost always a handful for opponents to contain.
The Bruins and Iginla soon found out they had mutual interest in a one-year deal, and instantly everyone expected the 36-year-old to replace Horton. Bruins coach Claude Julien has so far fulfilled those expectations by keeping that line together through two days of training camp.
"Yeah, I've enjoyed it the last couple days skating with them for sure," Iginla said after practice Friday at TD Garden. "They are great players and they have a great chemistry together. I'd like to play with them and help them out and yeah, as far building chemistry, it's just time together and learning where guys like pucks, where you go, getting used to talking to each other and where you find each other. And just really getting used to tendencies.
"I've enjoyed the first couple days playing with them and looking forward to more and when we actually get into a game, if that's the case."
Comparisons aren't just for sportswriters. It didn't take long for Krejci and Lucic to feel like they were back together with Horton.
"Yeah, they're both strong players who don't shy away," Lucic said. "They obviously, you know Jarome, I think he's a two-time 50-goal scorer, 500-plus goals, and he's got a great shot. And you know he's able to find those areas and put himself in scoring positions. With a guy like our centerman David Krejci, who's got such great playmaking skill, hopefully it can help make things easier for him jumping into our line. And again, he's shown over the years that he is a competitor and he wants to win, and that's definitely all our goals heading into this year."
Krejci said, "Yeah, you know what, they're both shooters, they're both right-handed, they play physical, they fight when they need to, so they're pretty much the same players. Jarome's got obviously a little more experience and he proved himself so many times in the NHL that he can score 30-plus goals. I'm actually excited to have that kind of guy on my line, and we're going to try to do everything that we can to get a good chemistry going in training camp and go from there."
Iginla changed teams for the first time in his 16-season NHL career last March when he was traded by the Calgary Flames to the Pittsburgh Penguins, whose season ended with a four-game sweep by the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final. Iginla did what he could to help Pittsburgh prior to getting shut out in the four games against Boston. He chipped in with 11 points (five goals) in 13 regular-season games then 12 points (four goals) in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Whether he forged the type of chemistry in his brief time in the Penguins' lineup that the Bruins want him to create now that he's in their employ is debatable. One thing that can't be argued is that having a full training camp should help him meet his performance expectations.
"Yeah, I think absolutely. When I went to Pittsburgh it was the first time leaving [Calgary] and it kind of brings you back to being your first year or so in the NHL. It kind of feels like even though you've been fortunate to be around for a while," Iginla said. "But it's kind of like, it's just new, it's just different, you just learn a little bit. … It's also nice to be able to have a training camp with the guys and go through the everyday stuff with them too. It's a little bit different experience than it was [in Pittsburgh]. But I did enjoy the chance in Pittsburgh and the time there. But yeah, you definitely learn more and it's something I hadn't been through before.
"And I think the biggest thing is to be yourself. When I first went there you're trying not to disrupt anything because they're going so hot at the time. But you know at the same time, I guess when they bring players in and they bring myself in, they want you to do what you do and be yourself too. So you try to find that balance."
The Bruins don't anticipate asking Iginla to do anything he hasn't before. They also don't expect to have to change their style to fit the right wing's needs. It was no secret (not after general manager Peter Chiarelli held a press conference to admit it) that Boston thought it had a deal with Calgary for Iginla prior to the Flames dealing him to Pittsburgh. Iginla was always a player the Bruins envisioned plugging into their lineup with little inconvenience to the rest of the team. Instead, the Bruins traded for Jaromir Jagr, who required a lot more leeway to perform.
"They are great players and they have a great chemistry together. I'd like to play with them and help them out and yeah, as far building chemistry, it's just time together and learning where guys like pucks, where you go, getting used to talking to each other and where you find each other."
-- Jarome Iginla on playing on a line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic
"Well, I think people realize we did that with [Jagr] last year. You know, he plays a certain way, and the type of player he was, if we wanted to get the most out of him we had to kind of let him play his game a bit. And you notice there's things that he did that a lot of our players didn't," Julien said. "But with Jarome, I think one of the reasons we liked having Jarome is that he likes going up and down his wing. He's not a guy that's all over the place. He's a power forward a lot like [Horton] was and he can shoot the puck, he can be physical and gritty and everything else. So I don't know how much we have to adapt to him or how much he has to adapt to us. I think it's actually a pretty good fit when it comes to him being on our hockey club. And I think that's one of the reasons he called us and wanted to play for us."
There's more to Iginla's package than his shot and his goal-scoring. He was a longtime captain with the Flames and is the type of player everyone likes to lean on for advice. Fitting in will mean more than just receiving passes from Krejci and forechecking with Lucic. Iginla will have to pick his spots speaking up among a leadership group that's led by captain Zdeno Chara, alternates Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly, and veterans with Stanley Cup championship experience.
"I plan on just being myself. I definitely don't come in thinking that they need any leadership help or anything," Iginla said. "They're a very strong crew and they've had a lot of success together, been together a long time, know each other well. I want to come and be myself. You know it is a balance of trying not to … I don't want to be just a fly on the wall, I want to be part of it. But I think the biggest thing is just play hard and compete, and I think that's what these guys do so well. They play hard, compete and have fun together. So I just want to be part of that and be natural."
If Iginla can be himself and produce like Horton (or better), he'll be a great fit for the Bruins.