It's been much better late than never for Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nathan Horton.
After missing the first 40 games of the season due to offseason shoulder surgery, Horton has made a seamless transition into Columbus' top-six forward mix and is, for now, living up to the sizable contract he signed this past summer.
He wasn't drafted on average in Yahoo Fantasy leagues, but that's history. Horton is quickly ascending the fantasy ladder and gaining more ownership by the day with his new team.
Playing alongside Ryan Johansen and Boone Jenner, Blue Jackets forward Nathan Horton is thriving after missing 40 games after offseason shoulder surgery. (Photo: Jamie Sabau/NHLI)
Horton (RW eligible, 32 percent owned in Yahoo) picked up an assist Monday, his third in two games, when Columbus handed the Anaheim Ducks (22-4-2 at Honda Center) a rare regulation home loss. In 16 games this season, he has put forth well-rounded fantasy coverage with 10 points, 14 penalty minutes, 28 shots on goal, 21 hits and three power-play points.
Ranked 84th in Matt Cubeta's most recent fantasy forward rankings and a consensus top-200 player prior to his return, Horton spent most of his ice time this past month alongside Artem Anisimov and Boone Jenner. Then, Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards shifted gears, putting rising star Ryan Johansen beside Horton and Jenner. In the two games since that lineup adjustment, the Jenner-Johansen-Horton top line has combined for nine points and Columbus has won on each occasion.
With Columbus, Horton has been on the ice for 16 team goals, including five on the power play, and 10 goals against. Columbus improved to 9-0-0 in games where Horton has recorded at least one point and 12-4-0 overall since his season debut on Jan. 2.
It's no coincidence that the presence of Horton and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, who returned from injury himself on Jan. 6, has translated to victories for Columbus. The Blue Jackets, who have seen Bobrovsky reel off 10 wins in 12 games since returning, are currently in playoff position and closing in on the New York Rangers for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
Horton, 28, signed a seven-year, $37.1 million deal with Columbus in July, but has had his share of injury issues in recent years. When he underwent offseason surgery, fantasy owners wondered if he'd be the same player again, let alone live up to his big contract.
But Horton has provided the Blue Jackets with valuable experience that could pay even bigger dividends during the stretch run and potentially the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where he scored 15 goals and 36 points in 43 career games with the Boston Bruins. He meshed so well with Milan Lucic and David Krejci for years but has quickly found his place among a deep forward arsenal in the Buckeye State.
Though Horton's year-end production may not stack up to his peers from a fantasy standpoint, his production from here on out could prove to have top-30 value at the right wing position. Horton is available in the vast majority of Yahoo leagues and is in great position to collect points more consistently on a line with Johansen, one of the more valuable keeper-league assets in the land.
Considering Horton has produced points, PIMs and shots at high levels in the past, fantasy owners should make room for Horton, whose ownership could easily spike to 50 percent or higher this month.