The Curious Case of Nathan Horton

By Wayne Whittaker, Boston Bruins Correspondent

Halfway through the 2010-2011 regular season, Nathan Horton is currently on pace for a 24 goal season. This would be his best mark since 2007 when he scored 27 goals with his first team, the Florida Panthers. Yet, it still doesn’t feel good enough for a former 3rd overall draft choice.

Nathan Horton
Photo credit: VickieVictoria/Flickr (CC)

Horton’s goal total of 12 has him sitting behind 79 other players who have lit the lamp more often. That is a stark difference from the 289 players selected after Nathan Horton in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft; a class that included such future stars as Dustin Brown, Dustin Byfuglien, Mike Richards, and Zach Parise.

When Boston sent Dennis Wideman and a pair of draft picks to Florida in exchange for Horton and grinder Gregory Campbell, they were hoping to get a power forward with a well’s worth of untapped potential. The thinking was that the move from a non-traditional hockey market to a contending hockey town would be all that was needed to bring consistency to Horton’s game.

For a while there, it looked like they were right as the 25-year old winger put up 6 goals and 5 assists in his first 10 games with the black and gold. However, in the subsequent 35 games, Horton posted just 6 goals and 10 assists.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Every year has been built up as a potential “break-out season” for the 6-year veteran, and yet Horton has only hit the 30-goal mark once in his career.  Inconsistency has plagued the winger, and this year has been no exception thus far.

There have been 22 games this season where #18 hasn’t posted a point, and 5 where he failed to register a single shot on net. That is far too many “off-nights” for such a talented player who happens to carry a $4 million contract (6th highest on the Bruins roster).

One of the main arguments against the acquisition of Horton was that the Bruins already had a ‘Michael Ryder’. It’s a fair comparison, as both players are known for their streaky styles of play, and identical cap hits.

But Ryder is having a great bounce-back season for the B’s, and is on pace to match his point total from 2008-2009. #73 is giving the Bruins’ brass reason to consider extending the winger’s tenure in Beantown once his current contract runs out at the end of this season.

Horton, on the other hand, is already locked into his current deal for another two seasons.  He has all the tools to be a very effective first-line forward in this league, and now just has to gain enough confidence in himself to allow his game to flourish.

Being just 25-years old, Horton is young enough to change his ways. But it’s a commitment he has not shown a willingness to take on.  There’s no reason he can’t be a perennial 40-goal scorer, with game-changing ability. But until he starts showing confidence in his decisions, we may never see the full potential of Nathan Horton.

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