“We went into the market looking for a scorer….we got the No. 1 guy on our list.”
Those were the words of Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen on July 5, 2013, hours after the club had completed arguably its biggest free-agent signing in franchise history with Nathan Horton. Horton, a six-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL who was coming off a terrific Stanley Cup playoff with the Boston Bruins, did not need much time to decide that Columbus was the place he wanted to spend the next chapter of his career.
But the road ahead - both short-term and long-term - would be a challenging one for Horton.
LISTEN: Nathan Horton's pre-game comments
A week after signing, he underwent surgery to repair his injured shoulder and the rehabilitation process was a grueling six months. It varied from light workouts, to skating, shooting, lifting weights…sometimes dealing with excruciating pain and lingering soreness.
Chalk it up to sweat equity that’s totally worth it, because Horton is expected to make his long-awaited Blue Jackets debut tonight in Glendale, Ariz.
The Blue Jackets, to this point, have played 40 games and compiled a record of 17-19-4 - putting them six points behind third-place Philadelphia in the Metropolitan Division with more than half the season left to be played.
Adding Horton to the lineup is something the team was hoping to do at some point in January, and after Horton’s shoulder responded well to contact over the past week, the idea of making his Blue Jackets debut started to become a reality.
This was Horton’s take last week after one of his first contact practices: “The pain’s probably not going to go away for a long time, but as long as I get my strength and I’m comfortable with hitting people and getting hit, I’ll be fine.”
It hasn’t been finalized where Horton will play in the Blue Jackets’ lineup, but he has practiced in recent weeks on a line with Matt Calvert (currently injured) and/or Nick Foligno on left wing and Ryan Johansen at center.
In the team's morning skate at Jobing.com Arena, Horton skated on the right side of a line featuring Brandon Dubinsky on left wing and Artem Anisimov at center.