Panthers star discusses tying Gordie Howe for third on all-time points list

DENVER — As a student of hockey history, Jaromir Jagr is well aware that his next point, No. 1,850, will be the most significant to date of his extraordinary NHL career.

It could come Thursday when Jagr and the Florida Panthers play the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center (9 p.m. ET; ALT, FS-F, NHLTV), a point that will tie him with Gordie Howe for third place in NHL history.

“You should just have fun and work as hard as you can and those numbers are going to come,” Jagr said Thursday morning. “It’s always fun when you’re playing good. There’s a lot more pressure also. Once you start playing good, the expectation is there, but that’s the way it should be.”

Jagr is third all-time in goals with 743, sixth in assists with 1,106, fourth in points with 1,849 and 10th in games played with 1,610.

And yet, the 44-year-old right wing is more concerned with the Panthers maintaining their first-place standing in the Atlantic Division than in making his mark among the all-time greats. He wants to ensure Florida continues to play well heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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“First of all, we still have to make the playoffs,” said Jagr, who leads the Panthers in scoring with 47 points (21 goals, 26 assists) in 60 games. “There’s so many games left and the race is so tight.”

But Jagr certainly has come to appreciate a player like Howe, who played 25 years with the Detroit Red Wings, six in the World Hockey Association with the Houston Aeros and New England Whalers, and returned to the NHL with the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80 to score 15 goals at age 52.

“I always said if you want to be a good hockey player, you got to know the history of hockey,” Jagr said. “You got to appreciate those guys who were stars before you came in the League. I had a chance to meet almost everybody in the top 10 (in scoring), and I respect them so much.

“Some guys I played (with), some guys I played against a lot. Some guys I just met or watched them from the highlights, like Gordie or Phil Esposito. Those guys I didn’t have a chance to play against, but I watched them and you got to respect those guys and you got to know the history to be a good player.”

Jagr seemed surprised when asked what motivates him to keep playing. The fifth pick in the 1990 NHL Draft, Jagr joined the Pittsburgh Penguins as a rookie in 1990-91 and is in his 22nd NHL season. He also played three seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League between stints with the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.

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“You want to do things that make you happy, you don’t need the motivation to do it,” he said. “There’s millions of people who’d be happy to do what I do for one day. There’s millions of people who have to go to their regular job and after their job at 12 o’clock at night, they go to play hockey, and have to pay for the ice. Do they have motivation? No, they love it.”

Just like Jagr does.

“It is pretty amazing and he certainly deserves a lot of credit for what he’s been doing now,” said Avalanche coach Patrick Roy, who played against Jagr many times when each was at the height of his career. “I have to say this, his puck protection is phenomenal. It’s hard to play against him, hard to take the puck away from him. I think that’s why he’s capable of playing the game right now. It’s cool for him. It’s nice to see a player like this being capable of playing at that level at that age.”

Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said Jagr’s work ethic, along with his obvious skill, have allowed him to keep playing quality hockey.

“When we give them a day off, he shrugs his shoulders and goes on the ice,” Gallant said. “He does what he wants to do, and that’s the way it should be. He’s 44, he knows what makes him a good hockey player, he knows how to prepare for a game, and that’s what he does. It’s worked for him a long time and as coaches we worry about him being tired and he worries about getting ready for games.

“He knows he’s one point away (from Howe) and when he gets it, it will be a big point. But he’s been doing that ever since he got to Florida. It seems like every second night he’s breaking a record. It’s been great for our organization and great for our young players.”

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Center Aleksander Barkov, 20, said it has been a thrill skating on the same line as Jagr.

“He’s still one of the best players in this League,” said Barkov, who was the second pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. “He’s just an amazing player and I love to play with him. He just works hard, he keeps himself in shape, that’s why he’s still playing. He can play with the puck, he can make plays with the puck, it’s tough to take the puck away from him. It’s really amazing to watch him.”

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