Nathan Horton made his feeling obvious just after 1 p.m., Thursday afternoon after signing a franchise-record six year contract with the Florida Panthers.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said the 22-year-old right winger. “I want to stay and play for this team.”
Horton, who scored 31 goals last season and has become known for his quick, wicked shots, becomes the second player to sign a longterm deal with the Panthers in the past 10 days. Defenseman Bryan Allen signed a five-year contract last week.
The signing of Horton and Allen show the Panthers commitment to signing their young stars well into the future and keeping the nucleus of the team together.
“This is where I wanted to be,” Horton said Thursday afternoon. “This is an unbelievable place to play. The guys, the franchise…it’s a great organization. Obviously, I wanted to stay here and be part of this team.”
Panther GM and coach Jacques Martin said: “Nathan compiled a career best season last year, proving to be one of our club’s top offensive threats. He is a very skilled and talented player who is a key part of our nucleus of offensive talent.
“By signing Nathan to a long-term deal we hope that this serves as further proof about our organization’s dedication and commitment to bringing continued stability and success to the Panthers.”
The Panthers’ first pick (third overall) in the 2003 Entry Draft, Horton posted career-highs in 2006-07 in goals (31), assists (31) points (62), power-play goals (7), game-winning goals (3) and plus/minus (Plus-15).
Since he works out every morning in South Florida, Horton said he wouldn’t be doing any celebrating Thursday evening. But he said he was looking forward to attending Friday’s Draft Party at the Park Sports Bar & Grill at the Seminole Paradise in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
“I’m just excited right now about the team,” Horton said. “We just have to play better in the early months. We all want to be in the playoffs and this team will get there.”
Not only was Horton’s the team’s second leading scorer, but he had five multiple-goal games and proved his durability by being one of six Panthers to play all 82 games.
He also made history in Philadelphia on Jan. 8 of 2004 when, at the age of 19, he became the youngest NHL player to score on a penalty shot.
"Nathan has taken significant steps in his growth process and we strongly believe that he possess all the essential qualities that we strive for in our players,” Martin added. “He joins a growing list of players who have signed multi-year deals with the team that includes Olli Jokinen, Ville Peltonen, Ruslan Salei, Mike Van Ryn and Bryan Allen.”
Horton, a native of Welland, Ontario, has 131 points in 208 NHL games, all played in a Panther uniform. He’s scored 73 goals, 16 on the power play, and 58 assists and has a Plus-18 rating.