Panthers’ young guns eager to play with legendary Jaromir Jagr
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — The Florida Panthers are brimming with excitement as they await the arrival of a player, who to many of the team’s younger skaters, felt like more of a myth than a man until this point.
On Thursday, the Panthers acquired Jaromir Jagr, the NHL’s longest-tenured player and a future Hall of Famer, from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2015 and a conditional third-round pick in 2016.
The move, which was lauded by the majority of NHL pundits, not only serves to provide Florida’s anemic offense a much-needed boost in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race, but also give the organization’s young core — 10 of which were born after Jagr’s NHL debut in 1990 — a chance to learn from a bona fide legend.
A man who once adorned the walls of their childhood bedrooms will now stand alongside them.
A man they mimicked as they learned to handle their first hockey sticks will now show them the way.
A man they once idolized, they now call a teammate.
"It’s exciting," said forward Brandon Pirri, 23. "It’s a guy that I watched growing up, and I’m a big fan of him. You just want to soak up as much as you possibly can. Hopefully he comes in, gels quickly and helps our team make the playoffs."
A 22-year NHL veteran, Jagr currently ranks sixth in NHL history with 716 goals, seventh with 1,068 assists and fifth with 1,784 points in 1,530 career regular-season games split between Pittsburgh, Washington, the New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston and New Jersey.
For players such as Pirri, each stop during Jagr’s storied NHL career correlates to a time and place in their own journey from Pee-Wee hockey to the NHL.
"Pittsburgh," Pirri said when asked to recount which Jagr incarnation resonates with him most. "The days where he just had the puck on a string the whole game and it seemed like he could just find the back of the net at will. He’s so big and so strong that he seemed like a man among boys."
On the eve of his Panthers debut, Jagr’s man-among-boys persona will soon be more literal than figurative as 43-year-old winger will be centered by either Aleksander Barkov, 19, or Nick Bjugstad, 22, when the Panthers host the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon.
"It’s awesome," said Barkov, grinning ear to ear. "He’s a great player and won two Stanley Cups before I was born. It’s good to have him here. I think his work ethic is pretty good and I’ve heard some good stories about him so we’ll see if that’s true or not."
As Barkov alluded to, Jagr’s work ethic and notoriously intense training regimen has become nearly as famous as the man himself. For the next 20 games — and possibly longer if general manager Dale Tallon has his way — Florida’s younger players will get an up-close and personal look at what he goes through and learn what it takes to endure and succeed at hockey’s highest level.
"Apparently his work ethic off the ice is unbelievable and on the ice I’m sure it’s the same thing," said 2014 No. 1 overall pick Aaron Ekblad. "You can learn everything from leadership to something as simple as how to score a goal. Where to put (the puck), where he thinks and how he thinks in the defensive zone and offensive zone."
"I’m just going to sit there and be a sponge to him and try and learn from him."
Grab your pencil, Aaron. The School of Jagr is now in session.