Under Pressure: Nathan Horton

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The Blue Jackets made a big splash in the summer of 2013 by signing Nathan Horton to a seven-year, $37.1 million contract, but he wasn’t able to do much to help Columbus in the first season of that deal.

Of course, when the Blue Jackets signed him, they did so knowing that he would need shoulder surgery and consequently miss at least the first two months of the season. It proved to be worse than that though as he wasn’t able to make his Blue Jackets debut until Jan. 2 and was eventually shut down again in April, this time so that he could undergo abdominal surgery. The end result was that Horton played in just 35 games and missed the playoffs entirely.

He’s had a full summer to train and hopes that will lead to him having a strong campaign. Given that he’s projected to be the team’s highest paid forward in 2014-15 (keep in mind that Ryan Johansen’s still a restricted free agent), the Blue Jackets need for that to be the case.

Horton does have a significant injury history even if you ignore what happened last season, so he’s not a mortal lock to stay healthy even if he’s available for the start of the preseason. Moving past that though, there are questions about how high his ceiling is.

He’ll turn 30 in May and has been a relatively consistent producer throughout his career when healthy. He’s averaged about 55 points per 82 games, which is good, but not remarkable, especially given his contract. At the same time, he’s excelled in the playoffs, which begs the question: Can he step up in the regular season as well to be an offensive leader for a Blue Jackets team that doesn’t have much in the way of top-tier goal scoring threats beyond Johansen?

Keep in mind that while the Blue Jackets made the playoffs last season, it’s going to be a fight for them to get back there. Being able to perform in the playoffs is important, but the Blue Jackets also need Horton to play a key role in getting them there in the first place.

If he can manage that, then Horton will be giving them plenty of bang for their buck.