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What’s Next for Nathan Horton?

Nathan Horton

Love that dirty water? So does Nathan Horton. So much so, that he had to bring it to Vancouver for the Bruins to win the Stanley Cup this past season. One of the best memories for Bruins’ fans will be Horton dumping TD Garden ice (melted into water) in front of the Bruins bench before Game 7 that “could have” led to the Stanley Cup victory. Horton also played the role of the hero for many games throughout the playoffs, all while playing through a separated shoulder.

Although a separated shoulder couldn’t keep him off the ice, a late hit from Aaron Rome in Game 3 of the Finals against the Canucks forced Horton to miss the rest of playoffs with a severe concussion. So, will he be ready to start the 2011-12 season on time?

Back in mid-June, Horton expressed that most of the symptoms were fading.

“I’m fine, I don’t have any headaches right now,” Horton said. “I’m kind of just relaxing. I don’t have any symptoms and I’ve been that way for a few days now.”

In his first season in Boston, Horton got off to a fast start but slowed down mid-season and became much more consistent at the end of the year. Head coach Claude Julien knows that Horton started the season as the new guy, but ended the season as a player that won’t be forgotten.

“Not only do you people learn a lot about Nathan because of [the injuries he played through], but so did we as an organization,” Julien said. “When you bring someone like that in and as the season goes on you see how he changed. And I don’t know if you have noticed, but to me he became more and more of a consistent player in the second half and [was more] physical and emotionally engaged. And I thought he really grew as a player this year with us, and that just carried over into the playoffs. And that’s why there was no way you were going to keep him out of the lineup, even with that shoulder separation.”

Horton finished the regular season with 26 goals and 27 assists (53 points). In 21 playoff games, he had eight goals and nine assists (17 points). He had game-winning overtime goals in Games 5 and 7 in the first round matchup with the Montreal Canadiens. He also had the only goal in the Game 7 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning to bring the Bruins to the Stanley Cup. So, to say the least, he made a very large impact in the playoffs.

With Horton secured for next season, his role will likely increase (as long as he’s healthy). Barring any setbacks to his past injuries and concussion, Horton could find himself sitting on the first line. With the retirement of Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder leaving town, Horton is the next right wing in waiting to take the spot on the top line.

He showed this past season that he can be an impact player and as the year progressed he showed his physical side as well. So there is no reason why he can’t start on the first line alongside maybe Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic? Heading into next season there is no telling who will be on what line, except for Zdeno Chara, but Horton made a strong case for himself last season.

Will his concussion play a role next year though? It could, but only in terms of taking more time to start physical play. It is the first concussion of his young career, but for the former No. 3 overall pick in 2003 he should be ready to start the season on time. Marc Savard‘s situation was different because he suffered concussions throughout his career and is much older than Horton. Horton said the only side affect was headaches and those have subsided already. For now, he’s planning on resting up to be prepared for next season.

“I think right now just take some time off,” Horton said. “It was a long year, a long playoff. You don’t want to start up too early and be drained so I think I’ll just take the right amount of time off and get ready for another long one, because we definitely have a great team here for a long time.”

So whether Julien plays Horton on the first or second line next season, his role on this Bruins team is definitely on the upside.

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