At the beginning of last season, Boston Bruins forward Nathan Horton was returning from a concussion suffered on a dirty hit in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals. He made it through 46 games reasonably healthy, until suffering another concussion on another dirty hit on January 22 against Philadelphia. Horton did not return to the lineup after that.
So once again Horton comes into this year having recovered from a concussion. He was cleared for contact by team doctors on July 24, and should be ready for the start of the season October 11, against the Flyers of all teams.
Without Horton, the Bruins' offense sputtered at times, particularly in the month or two after his injury. Boston was disappointingly eliminated by Washington in the first round of the playoffs. Horton's linemates on the top line, David Krejci and Milan Lucic, saw their effectiveness drop after Horton's injury. They were especially dormant during the seven-game loss to the Caps.
The Bruins were very quiet this offseason. Elite offensive talent was available, but Boston wisely held off. But while the Bruins have many very good forwards, they don't have anyone like Zach Parise or Rick Nash, elite players who can always be relied on. Of course, the Bruins managed to win the Stanley Cup without an offensive star.
Horton was healthy for most of that Cup run, though, and scored two game-winners in Game 7s. Boston clearly missed his size and skill in last year's playoffs, not to mention his tenacity and desire. His physical presence on the ice combined with Lucic's clears up even more space for Krejci to work his magic. Though not a superstar, Horton is a reliable 30-goal scorer. For a team built on playing all four lines and getting offense from all of them, losing a player like that is costly.
There is probably no team that has been more impacted by concussions than the Bruins. Marc Savard's career was ended by them, and Patrice Bergeron's nearly was as well. We'll always be worried about Horton just like with Bergeron, both for their health and for their importance to the team. The Bruins will need Horton (and Bergeron) to stay healthy this year to have a chance at the Cup this year.
Scott Frano is a Boston native and longtime Bruins fan.
"Nathan Horton cleared for contact," Brendan Hall, ESPN