As part of our preview heading into the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, we've asked Joe McDonald and James Murphy to answer nine big questions (one per day) facing the Boston Bruins. Here's our Day 3 question:
How will Nathan Horton fare in 2013?
Joe McDonald: After he suffered a pair of concussions in a seven-month span, Boston Bruins forward Nathan Horton is happy and healthy.
It's been almost a full calendar year since he last played in an NHL game, on Jan. 22, 2012, and he can't wait to cut some grooves in the Garden ice once the lockout-shortened season begins Jan. 19 when the Bruins host the New York Rangers.
Unless Bruins coach Claude Julien decides to change the line combinations, Horton should be back on the top unit with Milan Lucic and David Krejci. Horton is a major contributor offensively when he's playing his type of game. Before the injury last January, he had recorded 17 goals and 15 assists for 32 points in 46 games, and he wasn't even playing his best hockey.
He participated in the team's captain's practice this week and showed no ill effects from the concussions. He said he's feeling the best he's ever felt and will not change his game or shy away from any contact. His teammates also know how important Horton's contributions will be for the success of this team.
James Murphy: There are two ways to look at how the lockout affected Nathan Horton: Either the extra rest benefited him, or not playing for nearly a year created rust he will not be able to shake off fast enough in a 48-game season.
Although I believe that rust definitely will hamper Horton as the season gets under way, I also believe that would've been the case in an 82-game season that should've begun in October. There was going to be rust no matter what, and the fact that his body has had that extra time to condition will benefit him in my eyes.
Horton feeds off his physical game, and that definitely will be the telltale sign of whether he has fully recovered. But if he does pass the first few tests, I believe Horton can be the tenacious scorer he was in the 2010-11 season, when he netted 26 goals and had 53 points in 80 games and then eight goals and 17 points in 21 postseason games in the Bruins' Stanley Cup run.
His skill and size are still there, and that doesn't just go away. Concussions are always hard to come back from, but I expect a solid season from Horton. He'll help on the ice, and his presence around the team will be key to chemistry, too. His teammates are thrilled to have him back. That support can only help him work back to being the power forward who helped the Bruins win the Cup two seasons ago.