Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Full Strength Revitalized Jaromir Jagr Thriving While Leading Young Panthers

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Full Strength Revitalized Jaromir Jagr Thriving While Leading Young Panthers

Article excerpt

Jaromir Jagr had just scored two highlight-reel goals to propel the Florida Panthers to a vital win Sunday.

Someone observed that the 43-year-old forward seemed to have found the Fountain of Youth playing with two linemates who weren't even born until after he had won two Stanley Cup championships with the Penguins.

The NHL's portrait of Dorian Gray didn't miss a beat in replying, "I didn't think I was bad before."

He laughed, as he often does in talking about the marvel of his career, which began at 18 when he debuted with the Penguins in 1990- 91 with 27 goals. Jagr is clearly revitalized since joining the Panthers and forming a dynamic line with Jonathan Huberdeau, 21, and Aleksander Barkov, 19, over the past month.

The three have combined for 13 goals and 38 points in 14 games.

"From the first game he got with us he's played really well with those two kids. They're a real good line in the NHL right now, not just on our team," said Panthers coach Gerard Gallant, adding that Sunday against the Senators, "He was our best player."

Jagr's productivity (four goals, 12 points in 14 games) and his remarkable chemistry with two of the Panthers' most prized young forwards has fueled speculation about whether he will be back with the team next year.

The ageless Czech, who can be a free agent July 1, deflects all questions about his plans for next season, but Thursday in Toronto said he believes he can play until he's 50.

He wasn't smiling. Considering Jagr has been repeating that all season, there is no reason to think he was joking.

Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon told South Florida reporters Saturday that he has spoken only in general terms with Jagr's agent and that there will be no serious contract talks until after the Panthers finish their pursuit of a playoff spot.

"I can see the effect he's had on our young players already and the effect he's had on our team. If that continues and he wants to stay here, then we have definite interest in bringing him back. But it has to be a mutual understanding that he wants to be here before we can have those discussions. That hasn't come to fruition yet," Tallon said.

Financial considerations will be a factor. But there is no doubt Jagr is delighting in his role as the guru of the Panthers' kiddie corps.

"I said they are going to surprise the league. In two years they may win the Cup, the way they play," Jagr said. "I'm glad I'm on this team."

Regarding Huberdeau and Barkov, he said, "They've surprised me how talented they are. Even so young they can make a play like they've have been in the league for 10 years.

"It's a two-way street. I can help those young kids and they can help me. I really enjoy it."

Since joining the Panthers, he has moved into fifth place on the career goals list with 720. …

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