GLENDALE Ariz. -- Nathan Horton's long-awaited debut with the Columbus Blue Jackets will come Thursday against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Horton signed a seven-year, $37.1 million contract with the Blue Jackets in July. He had shoulder surgery shortly after joining Columbus.
"[Wednesday] I couldn't sleep too well," Horton said. "I've been waiting so long to play. It'll be tough the first few games but I want to get out there and contribute.
"I couldn’t even skate on the ice because I was smiling the whole time. It’s been a long road. I can feel it now. I can taste it. I’m pretty comfortable. I’ve done as much as I can without playing a game. It’s going to be a little bit weird. I’m sure I’ll have some nerves but overall I'm just excited."
Horton had 13 goals and 22 points last season with the Boston Bruins, and seven goals and 19 points in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help them reach the Stanley Cup Final. With Marian Gaborik (collarbone) still out, Horton's offensive capabilities will be a boost for a Blue Jackets team that sits six points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for third place in the Metropolitan Division.
Horton took a spot to the right of Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov at the morning skate.
"They’re both fast and they both have all-round games," Horton said. "I'm lucky to be able to come back in the lineup and play with two special players like that."
The Blue Jackets also activated goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (groin) and defenseman Dalton Prout (upper body) off injured reserve. Bobrovsky, who has been out since Dec. 3, will dress Thursday and serve as the backup to Curtis McElhinney against the Coyotes. Prout will be a healthy scratch.
To make room for the roster additions, Columbus assigned forward Jonathan Marchessault, defenseman Tim Erixon and goaltender Mike McKenna to the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League.
The Coyotes will be without captain Shane Doan (illness) and defenseman Zbynek Michalek (hip). Defenseman Rostislav Klesla is ready to go after a bout with the flu but will be a game-time decision against his former team.
Mike Smith will start in goal for Phoenix. Smith allowed three goals on 10 shots and was pulled in the second period of the Coyotes' 4-3 overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday. Backup Thomas Greiss stopped all 15 shots he saw in regulation and overtime as the Coyotes rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win.
The Coyotes have played in a franchise-record six straight overtime games, going 2-0-4 during the run. They will tie an NHL record if they reach overtime against the Blue Jackets.
Here is how the Blue Jackets and Coyotes lineups could look Thursday:
Brandon Dubinsky - Artem Anisimov – Nathan Horton
Nick Foligno - Ryan Johansen - RJ Umberger
Blake Comeau - Derek MacKenzie – Cam Atkinson
Boone Jenner - Mark Letestu - Corey Tropp
Fedor Tyutin - Jack Johnson
Ryan Murray - James Wisniewski
Nikita Nikitin - David Savard
Scratched: Ryan Craig, Jack Skille, Dalton Prout
Injured: Jared Boll (ankle), Matt Calvert (upper body), Marian Gaborik (collarbone)
Lauri Korpikoski - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Rob Klinkhammer - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker
Tim Kennedy - Mike Ribeiro - David Moss
Kyle Chipchura - Jeff Halpern - Chris Brown
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Connor Murphy
Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
David Schlemko - Michael Stone
Scratched: David Rundblad, Paul Bissonnette, Rostislav Klesla
Injured: Shane Doan (illness), Zbynek Michalek (lower body)