Panthers, Jackets meet in Florida
SUNRISE, Fla. -- They both have distinctive hairstyles, they are both considered old for their careers, but dare we say that right winger Jaromir Jagr has overcome long odds even more times than right winger Donald Trump.
Sticking to hockey from here on out in this story and forgetting -- mercifully -- about politics, the Florida Panthers' Jagr and his infamous mullet hairstyle have been counted out numerous times over the past several years.
With just two goals and seven assists entering Saturday's home game for the Panthers (10-9-1) against the Columbus Blue Jackets (11-5-3), Jagr is starting to hear the whispers again.
Has he lost a step ... or three?
Is he finally finished?
Is it time for him to hang up his hockey sweater and try a comfy cardigan instead?
Jagr, who turns 45 in February and is playing on a one-year, $4 million contract, is philosophical when asked about whether he is nearing the end.
"At a young kid coming in, you just go and play," said Jagr, who is third on the NHL's all-time scoring list. "You don't think about what could happen.
"It's like driving a car. When you are young, you go as fast as you can, and you don't think about getting killed. Same thing with hockey -- you don't play the same way when you are 18 as you do when you are 40. Now there's a little bit of fear of what can happen."
Jagr was still an offensive threat for the Panthers last season, leading the team in points with 27 goals and 39 assists in 79 games.
But while Jagr is trying to make his game great again -- his younger teammates have flourished.
Panthers forwards Jonathan Marchessault, 25, and Denis Malgin, 19, have played surprisingly well.
Marchessault, who is from Quebec, is on his third NHL franchise in four years, but he has finally made a significant impact. He has nine goals in 20 games, which is already a career high and more than the seven goals he managed last season in 45 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It's been a stunning rise for Marchessault, who was often a healthy scratch last season in Tampa Bay.
Malgin has four goals and four assists in 20 games. A native of Switzerland, Malgin wasn't expected to be here at all, certainly not this quickly. He was the 102nd player selected in the 2015 draft, and he doesn't look impressive coming off the team plane.
In fact, both Marchessault and Malgin are listed at about 5-9, 175 pounds, which means that their games are about speed and skill as opposed to force and fight.
Speaking of Malgin, Columbus has its own teen-age budding star in rookie defenseman Zach Werenski, 19.
Werenski, a 6-2, 220-pounder who has great vision and elite puck-moving skills, is steering the NHL's top power-play unit.
Columbus relies heavily on Werenski, who averages 22 minutes per game and has five goals and 11 assists in 19 games. He added another power-play assist in Friday's 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It's no wonder that the former Michigan Wolverines star was the eighth overall selection in the 2015 draft.
"Zach is ready to handle anything we throw at him," Columbus coach John Tortorella told the media. "He has that demeanor -- I don't think he's afraid to make a mistake. If he does make a mistake, he comes right back. He's a talented player with his hands and legs but also with his mind."
Werenski has said he rarely gets nervous, and why should he?
He is on a pace to score 70 points. And even if he falls a bit short of that, only two rookie defensemen in the past 25 years have scored as many as 50 points in a season. And it has been more than three decades since a teen-aged rookie defenseman has had over 50 points.