Chance to play with Jagr is mindblowing for young Panthers
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) — For a pair of players who would eventually become Florida Panthers, it turns out that Feb. 7, 1996 was quite a significant day.
— Jaromir Jagr scored his 200th NHL goal.
— Aaron Ekblad was born.
Separated in age by a whopping 24 years, Jagr and Ekblad become teammates on Saturday for the first time when Florida plays host to the Buffalo Sabres. Jagr could not arrive in time for practice Friday so still hasn’t even skated with the Panthers, who acquired him in a trade with New Jersey on Thursday for a pair of draft picks.
Nonetheless, the Panthers were abuzz as they awaited his arrival.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Ekblad, the Panthers’ All-Star rookie defenseman who just turned 19 years old. “A legend of the game in his own rite. He’s just played so many games, he’s scored so many points, he’s played on so many teams, he’s learned so many things, I’m just going to kind of sit there and be a sponge and try to learn from him.”
That’s part of what this move is about, bringing in a future Hall of Famer with a remarkable work ethic to show a dressing room filled with young players what it means to truly be elite.
There’s also the not-so-small matter of getting the Panthers over the hump in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. After so many years of being a cellar-dwelling seller at the NHL’s trade deadline, Florida — which hasn’t won a postseason series since 1996 — is a buyer this season, entering Friday two points behind Boston in the race for the No. 8 seed.
Jagr has appeared in 202 NHL playoff games. The Florida franchise has appeared in 38.
“I think it brings credibility to us,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “He’s a guy that can still score ... still a real good player. He’s still tough to take the puck from. He’s still a special guy when he’s got that puck in front of the net and he makes players around him better. I think he’s going to really help our club.”
Jagr has 716 goals in his NHL career, which started in 1990 — and was interrupted by leaguewide work stoppages and a three-year stint in Russia. He’s one goal behind Phil Esposito for No. 5 on the NHL’s all-time list, and his 1,784 points put him 14 behind Ron Francis for No. 4 on the career list in that department.
Jagr is also the leader among active players in no fewer than 11 stat categories.
“He doesn’t seem like he’s 43 years old,” Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau said. “He’s still so good on the ice.”
Jagr hoisted the Stanley Cup twice before Huberdeau was even born in 1993. Jagr and the Pittsburgh Penguins were the NHL champs in 1991 and 1992.
“It’s crazy. You don’t really think about that, but I mean, it is pretty crazy,” Huberdeau said. “You’re not even born and he’s won a Stanley Cup and now you have a chance to play with this guy on the same team. It’s crazy and we’re fortunate.”