The 29-year-old defender, who was released by his boyhood club at the age of 11, returned in a £13million deadline-day switch from Brighton and has since made four appearances – the latest a 2-1 home win over his former employers on Saturday – and helped the Magpies collect 10 priceless points.
As well as his assured displays on the pitch, he – like fellow new arrivals Kieran Trippier and Chris Wood – has taken on responsibility off it, and that has proved equally valuable.
Head coach Howe said: “I cannot credit Dan enough. I know I keep saying this, but he is so good at the training ground and around the group.
“I said when I first came that the most important people were the ones already in the squad and any January additions would be great, but it is about the players associated with the club now. What I did not want to do was damage the environment I already had.
“The biggest compliment I can pay the ones who came in is that they have all enhanced the group and the spirit is as strong as it has ever been.
“Dan, in all my preparations before signing him, I realised that leadership was one of the big things that stuck out about him. It is what people said when they spoke about him, the same with Kieran.
“That’s massively important. Chris Wood too is a great example in the changing room and training. When they set the example you want, it is such a powerful thing.”
Saturday’s victory, which saw Ryan Fraser and Fabian Schar strike in quick succession before the break and Lewis Dunk reply after it, was a fifth in six outings and extended Newcastle’s unbeaten league run to eight games – a return which has eased them seven points clear of the relegation zone.
By contrast, it stretched Brighton’s losing run to four games and threatened to take the gloss off what was shaping up to be one of the Seagulls’ best top-flight campaigns yet.
Head coach Graham Potter said: “We’ve got 33 points, which is still good, but you’re always looking through the lens of your recent results and, at the moment, we’re disappointed because those are the results we’ve got and we have to react to that.
“But there’s a lot of football to play and a lot of points to play for, and we have to make sure that we finish with as many as we can.”