Age just a number for NHL great Jagr
Vancouver, Feb 16 : When Czech ice hockey star Jaromir Jagr turned professional in the 1990-91, four of his Dallas Stars teammates were yet to be born.
Speaking Friday on his 41st birthday prior to the Stars game with the Vancouver Canucks, the Czech great, who returned to the National Hockey League (NHL) last season after three years of playing in Russia, said he originally didn't think he was good enough to play professional hockey, reported Xinhua.
"Back then I never thought I'm gonna play in the NHL," said Jagr, arguably the greatest European to play in the NHL with 669 goals and 1,664 points over 20 seasons, eighth on the all-time career scoring list.
"I was wondering why the Pittsburgh Penguins draft me. I was very thin, not very strong, but here I am now 22 years later."
As a five-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading point getter in the regular season, Jagr is no longer vying for the scoring title, but he has been offensive presence in leading the Stars with four goals and 11 points in 13 games.
With two Stanley Cups to his name when he was a key part of the Pittsburgh Penguins dynasty in the early 1990s, Jagr is in Texas to help restore some respectability to a Stars franchise that hasn't made the playoffs the past four years.
Dallas is currently eighth in the NHL Western Conference with a record of 7-6-1.
"We have great goaltending and that's key for our team," said Jagr, who started the current season playing at home in the Czech Republic during the NHL lockout that shut down play for 113 days.
"I don't think we have a team like Pittsburgh Penguins who can play up-and-down hockey, but I think we have a good enough team to be able to cycle the puck in the offensive zone and play on the boards. We have pretty strong guys who can score but play along the boards and guys who work hard on the PK (penalty kill) and even five-on-five. But I think defence is key to be successful in this NHL."
Stars captain Brendan Morrow said the enthusiasm Jagr brings to the rink has been infectious throughout the team, especially for the younger players.
"He's a horse when he has the puck and he's tough to contain," said Morrow. "When he has that puck on his stick, I don't think anything's changed. He's still as lethal as he always was."
Vancouver Canucks defence man Kevin Bieksa was another to praise Jagr, adding the 190-cm winger was still dangerous, even in his forties.
"One of his major strength has always been his puck protection and he seems like he still has that," Bieksa said. "When he gets the puck and he wants to protect it, he's a hard guy to get it off of. So he goes to the dirty areas, he's got good vision obviously and he's just one of the premier power forward players of the last two decades."
In a career where he lost nearly two NHL seasons to lockouts and played three seasons in Russia, many hockey watchers feel Jagr could have had a shot at finishing second on the all-time scoring list behind Wayne Gretzky's untouchable 2,857 points if he had played more games.
Mark Messier is currently second all time on the NHL list with 1,887 points in 1,756 games. Jagr has achieved his 1,664 points in 1,346 games and is now 70 behind former Pittsburgh teammate and mentor Mario Lemieux for seventh all-time.
"I never thought about it (the all-time scoring list), because if I would I would have never left to Russia. If I wouldn't leave to Russia I don't think I would lose that," said Jagr, currently the only active player among the top-10 all-time point leaders.
He was vague, however, when asked if this would be his last NHL season, but noted Anaheim's Teemu Selane was still playing well at 43.
Jagr is currently on a one-year contract with the Stars for a reported $4.55 million a season, well down from his glory days when he earned $11 million a season in the early 2000s.
"It's all about the work. If you are willing to work and if you don't get injured I got no problem with that. But it's all about hard work and I love the game. If you love the game it's a lot easier to work hard on it," he said.
"But I'm glad Teemu (Selanne) is here because he's two years older than me, so it's inspiration for me to play a little bit longer."