Nathan Horton’s first season with the Columbus Blue Jackets wasn’t exactly one to remember.
While he was part of a team that went to the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history, recovery from offseason shoulder surgery and other injuries held him to just 35 games in the regular season and none in the postseason.
As Horton told Alex Busch of BlueJackets.com, he’s hoping a healthy offseason is just what he needs to help Columbus return to the playoffs again next season.
“It’s nice having a (full) summer where I can train. I haven’t had one in a while,” Horton said. “It’s different than the last few years that I was in Boston. I’ve got the whole summer, I can make myself stronger and work on things that I need to work on and get healthy.”
Last summer, Horton’s shoulder operation kept him out of the lineup until January 2. He was able to stay in action until April when he had to undergo abdominal surgery that knocked him out of the postseason.
Horton signed a seven-year, $37.1 million deal with the Jackets last summer. It was a deal that raised some eyebrows then given his injury history and the fact they knew he was getting shoulder surgery as it was. Still, a healthy Horton in the Columbus lineup makes a big difference and could help make them contenders in the Eastern Conference next season.
Pavel Zacha was this close to making his NHL debut.
Just days prior to opening their season against the Jets, the Devils returned Zacha — the sixth overall pick at this year’s draft — back to his junior club in OHL Sarnia.
The move comes after Zacha, 18, impressed throughout training camp and the preseason. He appeared in four exhibition games for New Jersey, scoring one point while endearing himself to the organizational brass, coaching staff and players.
“He understands the game. He plays with a maturity. It’s crazy to think an 18-year-old coming out of high school is up here and playing with the maturity and understanding of the game with the new system,” Kyle Palmieri told NJ.com. “I think he’s got a lot of raw talent there as a power forward. He’s got the body for it, the puck-handling skills and the nose for the net.”
At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Zacha has the frame and physical stature to play at the NHL level, and looked the part for long stretches of the exhibition season, getting turns on New Jersey’s top line.
The decision to send him back to junior is probably the right one, however.
Zacha only turned 18 in April and has limited experience even at the OHL level; ’14-15 was his first year with Sarnia, though he did appear in 38 Czech League games (for Liberec) the season prior.
There’s another Raffl in the NHL.
On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.
Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.
“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.
With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.
For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.