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Horton's return, Ott's grit could shape Northeast

by Brian Compton

With the 2012-13 NHL season ready to begin, teams will be scrambling on a nightly basis to earn points and clinch a spot in what is primed to be a wild 48-game race to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A condensed schedule means more games in a short amount of time, and teams will be relying on every player on their roster to contribute. takes a closer look at the players who will need to be major factors for Northeast Division squads:

Nathan Horton, Boston Bruins -- A concussion last Jan. 22 sidelined the power forward for the remainder of the 2011-12 season, but Horton has since been cleared by doctors and is ready to roll. How vital is his presence? The Bruins averaged 3.54 goals per game in the 46 games prior to Horton's injury and 2.69 goals per game after he was hurt. They were 31-13-2 before the injury and 18-16-2 afterward, and were ousted from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Washington Capitals in the opening round.

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Steve Ott, Buffalo Sabres -- After spending a lot of money on free agents in the summer of 2011, the Sabres were primed to be Stanley Cup contenders. Instead, they failed to qualify for the playoffs. Hoping to inject some grit into their lineup, the Sabres landed forward Ott (and defenseman Adam Pardy) in a trade that sent forward Derek Roy to the Dallas Stars.

"I hope I can bring that attitude," Ott said after the July 2 deal was completed. "I want to bring my consistency of being hard to play against every single night. I feel I've done that since the start of my career, and I feel I have a ton of game left. I haven't even reached part of my peak yet."

Rene Bourque, Montreal Canadiens -- New coach Michel Therrien could be just what the doctor ordered for Bourque, who struggled after being acquired from the Calgary Flames last January in exchange for Mike Cammalleri. In 38 games for the Canadiens, Bourque had five goals and three assists -- not exactly the numbers Montreal was expecting from a 31-year-old forward coming off back-to-back 27-goal seasons with the Flames.

"He scored 27 goals two years ago," Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said. "I know he had an off year, but I'm not ready to write him off."

Kyle Turris, Ottawa Senators -- Turris proved to be everything GM Bryan Murray could have hoped for and more after landing the highly skilled forward in a trade with the Phoenix Coyotes in December 2011. In 49 games for the Senators, Turris had 12 goals and 17 assists, a per-game average (0.59) that was nearly double the production he posted with the Coyotes (0.33). The hope in Canada's capital city is that Turris will build on the chemistry that was evident with captain Daniel Alfredsson as last season progressed.

Turris was productive during the work stoppage, going 7-12-19 in 21 games for Karpat in Finland.

"I think he's going to make big strides this season," Murray said of Turris. "He's comfortable with his surroundings now, and playing with Alfie certainly doesn't hurt."

Nikolai Kulemin, Toronto Maple Leafs -- The 26-year-old forward is coming off a disappointing season for the Maple Leafs, who again failed to make the playoffs -- Kulemin went from 30 goals in 2010-11 to seven a season ago. It appears he may have regained his form during the work stoppage, with 14 goals and 24 assists in 36 games for Magnitogorsk in the KHL.

"You're always thinking about it (not scoring), but I try to avoid (thinking about it) and just play my game," Kulemin told reporters last season. "I don't change anything in my game. I just try to think about how I can score in the game.

"Not scoring happens sometimes. Last year there were breaks. I had bad months to start the season. Then I just figured it out and started scoring and everything was fine."


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