Panthers forward sure former linemate, 45, will get ‘a chance
STAMFORD, Conn. — Jonathan Huberdeau is among those surprised that Jaromir Jagr does not have a contract to play in the NHL.
Huberdeau, a forward for the Florida Panthers, played on a line with Jagr the past three seasons.
Jagr, who became an unrestricted free agent on July 1, was not re-signed by the Panthers. The 45-year-old told Czech television Tuesday that he is willing and able to wait for an offer from an NHL team. Jagr confirmed that the Calgary Flames are interested in signing him, but said he was not sure how much.
Huberdeau believes Jagr can help an NHL team.
“I’m sure a team is going to give him a chance,” Huberdeau said during an NHL Player Media Tour appearance at Chelsea Piers on Wednesday. “At that age, it’s not even a chance. I think he can still play in the League for sure.”
Jagr had 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games for the Panthers last season, his 23rd in the NHL, and became the second-leading scorer in League history (1,914 points) behind Wayne Gretzky (2,857).
He has played 1,711 NHL games, fourth in League history and 56 behind leader Gordie Howe.
Huberdeau was limited to 31 games last season because of an Achilles injury. But beginning in the 2014-15 season, when the Panthers acquired Jagr in a trade with the New Jersey Devils, Huberdeau played on a line with Jagr and Aleksander Barkov.
On Wednesday, Huberdeau credited Jagr for helping him and Barkov, and said his legendary work ethic influenced the Panthers’ younger players.
“I remember when he came in, I wasn’t sure what to expect with a player like Jagr, a legend,” Huberdeau said. “Would he care about us, the young guys. But, he did. He helped us and he gave us confidence too.
“Me and Barkov, playing with him, he told us we were really good players and we had to play the way we can play and to our potential. He helped us with the work ethic too. At the end of practice, he would make us skate again. It’s cool to see a guy that is 45 and he can still do that.”
Though Huberdeau wonders what lies ahead for his former linemate, he is excited about his own 2017-18 season. He said he has fully recovered from his injury.
Last season, Huberdeau, 24, returned on Feb. 3 after missing the first 51 games of the season, and finished with 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) in 31 games. He said he was still battling the lingering effects of the injury.
“I’m 100 percent now,” he said. “The summer really helped.”
However, Huberdeau is not “100 percent” at all times; he still feels the injury at times when he is not skating, but the fact that his foot is immobilized in a skate while playing has allowed him to come back faster than he imagined. Additional work in the gym this summer has Huberdeau feeling more comfortable.
“I think it is an injury that you are probably going to feel for however many years,” he said. “It’s a really long process. On the ice, you don’t feel it and you can just go play.”
Huberdeau is also confident about the Panthers, who missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. He believes a return to health and new coach Bob Boughner can put them back in the postseason. Center Nick Bjugstad missed 28 games because of hand and groin injuries, and Barkov missed 21 games with an upper-body injury.
“Two years ago we went to the playoffs, so more was expected last year,” he said. “That didn’t happen, but this year is the time to build something and not to be looking back. That’s our goal, to start strong and make the playoffs.
“When we played and the whole team was healthy last year, it was different hockey. Injuries are a part of the game, but when we all play together, we are a different team and we all have good chemistry together. We know what we can do on the ice.”