Peter DeBoer likely isn’t the first Florida coach who felt like he was herding Cats, trying to get the most out of Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton.
The snickers around fantasy pool draft tables grew louder by the year as people continued to doubt these two would ever fully realize their potential and instead settle in as second-rate producers.
But who’s laughing now?
Weiss, drafted fourth overall in 2001, and Horton, taken third overall in ’03, have got it going right now, helping the Panthers claw through a stunningly average collection of Eastern Conference teams into a playoff spot right now.
Horton has racked up 23 points over his past 18 games, while Weiss has put up 20 in 16. Both are on pace to sniff around the 75-point barrier, which has to have DeBoer ready to do back flips.
The production is particularly needed and valued given David Booth’s ongoing absence due to the lingering effects of a concussion.
It would have been hard to pinpoint who offered less hope coming into this season, given Weiss’ advancing age and Horton’s wrong-way trajectory.
Weiss actually put up a career-high 61 points last year as Florida – wait for it – narrowly missed out on a playoff spot. He also turned 26 right before the season ended and while that makes the Panther a young pup in the real world, he had been an NHLer for enough time to cause legitimate questions as to whether his wasn’t so much a case of untapped potential as a poor projection on the part of the Panthers.
Horton, meanwhile, took a left turn after consecutive 62-point campaigns, dropping to 45 last year. But the 24-year-old has things pointed the right way again, demonstrating last year’s dip could just be a blip on the radar.
Aside from Florida’s most frustrating duo suddenly doing it right, there’s also room for optimism up front because of the continued development of feisty Michael Frolik and a surprise season from Stephen Reinprecht, who could well top out at a career-best 60 points. If Booth rejoins the mix at some point, scoring should be less of a problem than it’s traditionally been in the sunshine state.
Disappointment is like the honorary state flavor when it comes to hockey in Florida, so we’ll forgive those of you who want to wait a little while before attaching the ‘arrived’ tag on Horton and Weiss.
But if Panther fans want to get crazy and contemplate some really good news, unlike talented players in the team’s past, both Horton and Weiss have committed to Florida with long-term contracts. That means their arrival won’t be immediately followed by a departure.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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