Nathan Horton, playing against his old team, the
Maine Black Bears Florida Panthers. How does the oft-injured power forward grade out?
The difficult thing about Nathan Horton's season is that it was more about what it could and should have been, than about what it really was. A healthy Horton probably would have been the difference between victory and defeat in the first round (actually, so might a healthy Patrice Bergeron, but never mind that). If Horton is a streaky player, he is also probably the team's best pure finisher except perhaps for Tyler Seguin. The Bruins had plenty of shots on Braden Holtby in round 1; they needed someone to put them in the net. Alas.
Horton played 46 games, amassing 17 goals and 15 assists before a concussion cut his season short. For perspective's sake, it's worthwhile to note that Horton was on pace for 30 goals and 27 assists. Those 57 points would have placed him fifth on the team.
Horton had an even +/-, and posted a 5.5 GVT. Over a full season, that comes out to 9.8, the same number that old pals Dion Phaneuf and Malcolm Subban's older brother posted, and pretty close to the neighborhood we've come to expect from Horton. Curiously (or, perhaps not so curiously), opponents treated the Bruins' putative second line of Marchand-Bergeron-Seguin as the number 1 line, judging by the quality of competition each faced. However, Horton placed fourth on the team, and the difference wasn't stark.
Perhaps the most infuriating thing about Horton is that he doesn't shoot the puck more. For his career, Horton's shots find the net 14.9% of the time, an extremely impressive number. However, he averages just over 2 shots per game for his career, and was under that last year. Horton plainly has a great shot; he needs to unleash it more often. Why he fails to do so is a mystery to me. Just for argument's sake, if Horton took 3 shots per game, over an 82 game season, at his career shooting percentage, he'd score 37 goals. Even if we accept that there would be some small loss in shot quality, let's say he goes down to 13.9%, that's still 34 goals.
Injuries are nothing new for Horton; he's missed 108 of a possible 646 games over his NHL career. That's an average of 1 out of every 6 games. Coming off a concussion (an injury that tends to have a cumulative effect), and entering his free agent walk year, there will be pressure on Horton to stay in the lineup. If Horton cannot stay healthy, 2012-13 might well be his last in Boston.
The temptation is to mark Horton an Incomplete for the year, but to paraphrase the great Donald Rumsfeld, you go into the season with the players you have, not the players you might want to have. Surely, the Bruins wish that Horton would be the 35+ goal scoring, ass-kicking power forward the Bruins so badly desire. He is not. He is, when healthy, a good and useful player, but he is not the second coming of Cam Neely. Horton was the #3 pick in the star-studded 2003 NHL draft, and while no one would ever say he's a bust, neither has he quite lived up to the immense potential he seemed to have coming out of the OHL. He's 27, and it looks like Horton is what he is: a player who, when healthy, will score in the 25-30 goal range, but will probably miss just enough time to be a frustration to his team.