Panthers’ Weiss, Horton amp it up

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 would 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 must 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.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of

hockey,

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