Panthers center credits former teammate, unrestricted free agent for growth as NHL player
Now he just wants to see Jagr get a chance to play anywhere.
“I hope he signs somewhere,” Barkov said Thursday during the European Player Media Tour. “Whether it’s the NHL, the KHL [Kontinental Hockey League] or Czech league or anywhere, I just want to see him play.”
Jagr has been looking for a new team since the Panthers decided not to re-sign him before he became an unrestricted free agent July 1. The 45-year-old right wing had 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games for the Panthers last season, and his 1,914 career points (765 goals, 1,149 assists) in 23 NHL seasons rank second in League history behind Wayne Gretzky’s 2,857.
After playing in an exhibition game in Brno, Czech Republic, to commemorate the retirement of former NHL forward Martin Havlat on Wednesday, Jagr said, “There is a couple of [NHL] teams that showed interest, but nothing specific yet.”
Jagr’s options outside the NHL include playing in the KHL or with Kladno, the team he owns in the Czech Republic’s second-tier professional league.
Barkov said he was a little bit surprised that an NHL team hadn’t signed Jagr, but added, “I’m pretty sure he will sign somewhere.”
Barkov said he last spoke with Jagr when he saw him in Florida after last season ended before going home to Finland for the summer. At that point, Barkov thought Jagr would return to the Panthers, who acquired him in a trade with the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 26, 2015.
Barkov admitted he was disappointed Jagr wasn’t re-signed by the Panthers.
“I would be lying if I say no because he helped me so much and probably I would never be in the same situation without him,” Barkov said. “When he came in, I took my game to another level and for sure everybody else on the team did too. He just helped so much everybody on the team and is one of the most important guys in my career.”
Barkov, who turns 22 on Sept. 2, had a breakout season in 2015-16 centering a line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Jagr. He had NHL career-highs of 28 goals and 59 points in 66 games to help the Panthers finish in first place in the Atlantic Division with 103 points.
Although the Panthers took a step back last season and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Barkov’s education being around Jagr, who played five seasons in the NHL before Barkov was born, continued.
“I learned a lot, like playing differently in different situations and working out and living the life like a pro,” Barkov said. “I was living the life like a pro [before Jagr joined the Panthers], but he took me to another level too, and to love the game a different way because nobody loves the game as much as he does. When you see him doing his own stuff, you take it from him and try to do the same thing and you see it helps you.”
Barkov said Jagr’s love of the game is infectious to his teammates.
“You see him and you think about how he has been in the League forever and he has almost every record in the League and he still loves the game and wants to get better,” he said. “Not because of the records or anything like that. He just wants to play hockey and wants to help everybody on his team and wants to win. That’s the biggest thing about him. He wanted to win in every situation when he was on the ice. And when you play with him you see that in his eyes and you try to do the same thing and it helps a lot.”