Nathan Horton was drafted in the first round(third overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. The Welland, Ontario native was regarded as “an almost sure-fire top five pick” by USA Today. He was chosen by the Florida Panthers.
Horton, like his future teammate Milan Lucic, started his career early. He earned his first point on an assist from an Ivan Novoseltsev goal on October 24th. Eight days later, he scored his first goal against the San Jose Sharks. On January 9th, 2004, Horton became the first rookie in NHL history to score on a penalty shot.(Against Flyers goalie Jeff Hackett.) Regretfully, the other part of his history emerged. Four days after his record penalty goal he suffered a torn rotator cuff. His injury plagued the remainder of his rookie year. He put up fourteen goals and eight assists in his first season.
The lockout of the ’04-’05 season sent Horton to the San Antonio Rampage, the Panthers’ AHL affiliate. Horton suffered another shoulder injury. The time, the injury was severe enough to require surgery. In his twenty one games with San Antonio, Horton scored five goals and four assists.
The next few years saw Horton’s growth as a Panther. He worked his way up to earn a spot on the first line. He also accumulated a few more injuries along the way. Nathan scored his first hat trick on December 13, 2005. His coaches started to have him play on the penalty kill side of defense as well. Horton ended up with twenty-eight goals and nineteen assists for the 2005-2006 season. The next season had him as part of the ‘Finnish first line’ for the Panthers. He had a thirty/thirty season (31 goals, 31 assists) and had proven he had earned his million dollar contract.
He was resigned to a six year, twenty four million dollar contract. This surprised many. The Panthers were entertaining trade options, and Nathan wasn’t happy playing in Florida. If he was vocally unsatisfied, his professionalism silenced critics.. On January 22, 2008, Horton achieved his first four point game. By the end of the season, he had racked up another sixty plus point season (27 goals, 35 assists). He had crossed the hundred goal milestone, and was dubbed by the local press as the “King of Overtime”.
The 2008-09 season showed the downside. He had been stepped on by a skate and missed eight games in November. He was injured again in March. He suffered a broken finger and it required surgery. He was out for two more weeks. His production dropped to twenty two goals, and twenty three assists. The next season, Horton only put twenty goals in the books and the trade talks again began in earnest.
After seven seasons with the Panthers, Nathan Horton became #18 for the Boston Bruins on June 22, 2010. Horton and Gregory Campbell were traded for Dennis Wideman and two draft picks( one in 2010, one in 2011.) This trade was probably the best single trade made by the Bruins that year. Horty got to work right away, scoring his first two goals as a Bruin in a 5-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on October 9, 2010. His first season placed him second in goals ,(26) and fourth in assists(27).
Then came the playoffs. The “King of Overtime” re-asserted himself in Boston. In his twenty one games he played #18 racked up eight goals(one power play, and three game winners-two of them series clinchers), and nine assists. He was becoming the face of the Bruins in the playoffs. Then came game three of the finals. Nathan Horton received a late hit by Aaron Rome of the Vancouver Canucks. Horton’s concussion ended his season. (Rome was suspended for the remainder of the playoffs.)
His injury took him off the ice, but not out of the game. His appearance at game six sent Bruins Nation into a frenzy. (It was also the first time I felt a deep emotional pang for the sport.) His making Vancouver ice “home ice” endeared him to the fans. (Personally, I thought it was a stroke of genius.) The Bruins became the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions on June 15, 2011. Horton got his chance to wear his uniform and hold the Cup aloft in front of the Vancouver fans in the stand, and the rest of the world.
The 2011-2012 season saw Horton taking longer than expected to recover from post-concussion syndrome. He was scoring, but it was obvious he wasn’t one hundred percent, and it was hampering his game. On January 22, 2012, Horton took a hit by the Philadelphia Flyers Joe Sestito. The hit caused another severe concussion, ended #18 season and removed him from the playoffs.
On July 24th, 2012, Nathan Horton was cleared by the Bruins medical staff to once again take contact. This told us that he had avoided the career ending concussions that took Marc Savard out of the game. If Campbell is the arm, and Lucic the fist, it is safe to say the Nathan Horton is part of the B in the center. The part that keeps the spokes together, and the team the playoff contender we know them to be.