Jun 1, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Boston Bruins right wing Nathan Horton (18) handles the puck against pressure from Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) during the third period in game one of the Eastern Conference finals of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Boston Bruins won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Expectations For Returning Nathan Horton

It’s almost Christmas. While other teams may be asking for this or that, the Columbus Blue Jackets are already going to get what they so desperately want: Nathan Horton in the line-up.

That’s right, he’s (almost) back. Almost. We’re no longer talking in terms of months or even weeks anymore. Days. He’s now just days away. But as the excitement builds in Columbus, I am going to take a step back from all of the mayhem. In the (Christmas) spirit of analyzation, I ask: what are the expectations for Nathan Horton?

At first, it’s an easy question. I mean, we are excited for a reason, right? The dude can play hockey! And get this: he’s actually pretty good! And he wanted to sign in Columbus, and for a long (7 years) time. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a step back into reality and think.

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We already know all that. That’s why we’re so excited. But let’s process what we haven’t thought about. We’re three months into the season. The rust of all the players has fallen off. It’s no longer “early in the season.” We’re over 1/3 of the way through. And Nathan Horton is out of shape.

Of course he’s been working with the team’s trainers to get back healthy, but “healthy” and “in shape” are worlds apart. Horton has been nursing a shoulder surgery for a few months now. All the trainers are trying to do is get his shoulder back to normal. And while, yes, he’s been skating with the team at practice, it’s with a red “don’t hit me, I’m fragile” sweater.

But it’s not just the rust. Nathan Horton isn’t just a regular player, he’s exceptional. I’m concerned that being out of the lineup for this long will have a bigger impact than we’re comfortable admitting. He’ll adjust, yes, but it’s the time period that worries me.

It will take time for Horton to get back into the swing of things. But how long until we see the real Horton? How long until we see the guy we signed? Like I said, it’ll take a significant amount of time to knock off the rust. But how long until we see  Nathan Horton play Nathan Horton caliber hockey?

To ask that question, you have to ask another question: where is his caliber? Is it in his exceptional skill set? His conditioning? With his skills comes brute force and strength. He goes to the dirty areas. He scores with both finesse and grit. So Nathan Horton’s Nathan Horton caliber comes from all facets of the game.

Other facets of the game, including chemistry. He’s been around the team, and even skated with them, but Horton has yet to play a game with them. How long will it take for him to not only learn the tendencies of his new teammates, but adapt to them? Line chemistry takes months to figure out, and throwing Nathan Horton in the mix complicates things.

I’m not trying to be a downer. I’m as excited as anybody over the debut of Nathan Horton. But in lea of pegging this guy when he only has two goals through his first ten games, I just want to remind everybody to think of the circumstances regarding the situation. He’s coming into a team 1/3 of the way into the season. He’s coming off major surgery and out of shape. His game will benefit Columbus, I just don’t know when that will be.

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