had quite the eventful season — the kind of ‘eventful’ that doesn’t keep the Blue Jackets winger smiling when looking back.
Before signing a seven-year contract with the Blue Jackets last June, Horton was injured during Game 1 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final as a member of the Boston Bruins.
Following shoulder surgery, Horton's recovery period was projected to be four to six months and his debut season in Columbus didn't get underway until Jan. 2 in Glendale, Ariz. He was hurt again on April 8 against the Coyotes and didn’t return for the remainder of the season.
The worst part? Having to watch his Blue Jackets teammates compete in the playoffs from the press box.
“It was tough this season...just one of those years,” Horton told BlueJackets.com. “Obviously I wanted to be in there and playing in the playoffs and that’s what everyone wants to be in. I knew there was no way for me to play, so I just tried to not think about it and just cheer them on.”
Instead of contributing on the ice during an electric first-round playoff series with the Penguins, Horton had to be the best teammate he could be and tried to offer whatever advice he could to the younger players on the roster.
One of the things the Blue Jackets missed with Horton's absence, according to coach Todd Richards, was his veteran savvy and ability to make the right plays with the puck. As a regular 20-goal scorer throughout his career, the ability to put the puck in the net was also a big void left by Horton.
“It’s his presence and his experience,” Richards told BlueJackets.com. “I think what he fits in to, as well, is a nasty style that we can play. He’s a goal-scorer. It’s something that teams have to know where he is because he’s someone who has really proven himself in his career to be a goal-scorer.
|Horton has recorded six 20-goal seasons in his 10 years in the National Hockey League. |
"So, he becomes a threat, and the more threats you have out on the ice, the better, because more teams have to pay attention to that.”
Although this season took a toll on his body, Horton hasn't had a light offseason by any means. He's been working hard to build lower and upper body strength back to the levels he expects from himself, with the target of being in top shape for training camp in September.
Durability hasn't always been a concern for Horton; the 29-year-old has played 50 or more regular season games in seven of his 10 NHL seasons.
“It’s nice having a (full) summer where I can train. I haven’t had one in a while,” Horton said. “It’s different than the last few years that I was in Boston. I’ve got the whole summer, I can make myself stronger and work on things that I need to work on and get healthy.”
With a wealth of experience and a strong alliance formed last season on a line with Ryan Johansen and Boone Jenner, Richards thinks Horton is a key element to the Blue Jackets starting fast in 2014.
“I think everybody knows the start that we need to have to be successful — there’s no issue there,” Horton said. “Everybody knows what we have to do and that’s what everyone’s striving for in the summer: to be better, to work harder and to come in ready and have a good start.”
“We’re a very young team,” Richards said. “We were a young team last year and we’re going to be a young team again. To have some older guys with that type of experience is really important for us.
“I think just in the locker room it’s his personality, it’s his experience, and knowledge through his experience that hopefully he’s able to pass on and help out with everyone in the room.”