Shoulder injury healing faster than expected

Updated: January 29, 2004, 8:31 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The Florida Panthers got some good news on Thursday, as rookie Nathan Horton, believed lost for the season, will return to practice with the team Friday.

Horton has been skating on his own, and after an examination by the team's orthopedic surgeon, Horton was cleared to practice with the team without contact.

"I don't know if I'm any closer to playing a game," Horton told reporters on Wednesday. "It'll be nice to be back with the team."

Horton tore his left rotator cuff Jan. 11 when he skidded into the end boards with his left arm out to protect his head. The day after the injury, it was thought season-ending surgery was necessary. Last week, medical examinations concluded that Horton was mending quickly enough that a proper rehabilitation program would be enough.

"I can move it all over," Horton told the Miami Herald. "It's not that bad. I can lift my arm."

Panthers general manager and interim coach Rick Dudley added, "He'll play this year. I'm very comfortable with that. We're not going to rush him back. He's far too valuable to be hurried."