Horton cleared for contact, rebuilding strength

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Nathan Horton isn’t ready to say when he’ll make his Columbus Blue Jackets debut or even call himself close to returning, but he’s made significant progress recently in his efforts to return from off-season shoulder surgery.

Horton was a full participant in Friday’s practice and no longer needs to wear a no-contact jersey, although his teammates weren’t eager to test his injury.

“It wasn’t physical but it was more than I had done,” Horton told the team’s website. “It’s still a little sore but it wasn’t sore before I went on the ice, but that will go away.

“The pain’s probably not going to go away for a long time, but as long as I get my strength and I’m comfortable with hitting people and getting hit, I’ll be fine.”

To that end, he’ll continue to practice regularly until his conditioning is where it needs to be.

When he does return, it will naturally be a big boost to the Blue Jackets. They inked him to a seven-year, $37.1 million contract over the summer in the hopes that he could be an offensive leader and the missing piece in their quest for an elusive postseason berth.

The Blue Jackets have managed to hold their own this season despite already suffering a number of major injuries, but they are behind the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, and Philadelphia Flyers in the fight for the Metropolitan Division’s third and — given the overall weakness of the division — likely final playoff seed.