DETROIT -- No matter how much time he spends in the gym or how often he pops in to catch a few minutes of practice, it's hard for Nathan Horton to not occasionally feel like an independent contractor.
He has been a member of the Blue Jackets for all of three months, but offseason shoulder surgery has him on his own schedule for the foreseeable future. Horton underwent surgery in mid-July and was given a 4-6 month recovery prognosis, so he's looking at a return to the ice (approximately) sometime in either December or January if all goes well.
So far, the rehabilitation has gone according to plan but there's plenty of work to be done. In the meantime, the Blue Jackets have tried to help Horton feel "at home" as much as possible; they've included him in team activities when the schedule permits, he's accompanied the team on the road -- all in an effort to feel like "one of the boys" during what can be a frustrating process.
"It's not like being on the ice, but I'm around the guys a lot at the rink," Horton told BlueJackets.com. "Being able to go on the road and be around them a little more, go to dinner and do the typical things you're used to, that's been great for me. It's definitely great to do more than I've been doing (during rehab)."
Fans have seen Horton's smiling face at several offseason events and witnessed his friendly persona first-hand, and he said that has been a positive during this long layoff.
The immediate opportunity to build relationships with fans can't be overlooked, but both parties are looking forward to seeing No. 8 on the ice in a union blue sweater.
And while he's gotten to know the community fairly well, Horton has made it a priority to be around his teammates whenever possible. They're not doing the same workouts or going through the same routine, but Horton can often be spotted chatting with some of his teammates after practice and talking about what they worked on that day.
Needless to say, it's got Horton eagerly counting down the days.
"I've still got at least a month before I can start skating again, so I have to be patient with that," Horton said. "But once I do come back, I think I'll be ahead of the game in being familiar with everyone since I've had so much time when I'm not skating. It takes time, but I've got time on my hands.
"It's tough to compare it to another situation, because even though I'm here at the rink basically every day, I'm still not doing what I'm normally here to do. It makes it a little more challenging to get to know people, compared to something like being traded mid-season because you're right into the mix with your new team."
Horton's new team played his old team last weekend in Columbus, with the Boston Bruins winning a 3-1 chess match at Nationwide Arena. Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards called on Horton to give a scouting report and talk about some details prior to the game, and during/after the game, Horton had the chance to catch up with many of the faces that became so familiar during his time in Boston.
It's something he's really looking forward to developing in Columbus - no matter how long he has to wait.
"I have a lot of friends on that team and especially so when you experience what we did together," Horton said. "You never really lose that relationship. When you win a Stanley Cup, you need the full team and that's how it was in Boston.
"Everyone did a small part to make it successful, and it's a lot like what we have going on here. It makes the wait (to play) even harder."